Microsoft 365 is, as its name suggests, the new subscription bundle from Microsoft that replaces Office 365. It takes the emphasis away from Microsoft’s office suite just a little bit, but it’s tough to tell at first glance if this is a service designed for everyone or if it’s just for small business operators and serious Microsoft enthusiasts.
Microsoft is branding some of the pricing plans “Home” and “Family” (alongside “Business” and “Enterprise”), which lets you know that the company is targeting just about everyone with this service.
The benefits of subscribing to Microsoft 365 aren’t immediately clear compared to what you get for free, because a lot of the apps and services are the same. For instance, any Microsoft account holder gets 5GB of cloud storage space free of charge in OneDrive, and you can upgrade separately if you want.
Sign up for Microsoft 365 and you get 1TB of OneDrive space included. You can also then access extra features, including the ability to add password protection to your shared links and then set those links to expire after a certain amount of time. The upgrade also gives you access to ransomware detection and recovery, so Microsoft will warn you if it looks like your files are getting locked and can help you roll them back.
By subscribing to Microsoft 365, you can put an unlimited number of files in the password-protected Personal Vault inside OneDrive, too. If you’re not a paying customer, you can only stick three of your most precious files in here.
Microsoft Excel, now with an added Money plug-in. (Image: Microsoft)
When it comes to some services, there aren’t many perks that come with paying for Microsoft 365. The biggest difference with Skype is getting 60 minutes of calling time per month, which you can use to ring any landline or mobile phone anywhere in the world with no extra charge.
Microsoft is planning a whole host of new consumer-friendly features for its Teams apps, which are currently positioned as alternatives to Slack for businesses. In the near future you’ll be able to use it to chat with family members, plan events and trips, share files, and so on. Basically, Teams will take everything you do with your work colleagues in Slack and apply it to the people you live with.
Which of these features will be exclusive to Microsoft 365 subscribers isn’t completely clear yet. Microsoft already offers a free Teams tier for business users. Paying for a premium version offers more storage, the option to schedule and record meetings, and some extra security features. We’ll have to wait and see whether there’s a similar set of features when it comes to the free and premium tiers of the personal and family Teams plans.
An app that will be exclusive to Microsoft 365 subscribers, when it arrives, is the brand new Microsoft Family Safety app. It’ll cover everything you might expect from its name, including screen time monitoring, content filtering, and the ability to track the location of your loved ones (so you can see whether the kids really are coming home from school).
Then there’s Office itself, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the Outlook desktop client for Windows and macOS, plus Publisher and Access for Windows, should you need them. You get some heavyweight software for a decent price.
With a Microsoft account, you get free access to Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on the web, which are basic but official online versions of the desktop apps, plus Word, Excel and PowerPoint on mobile devices with displays up to 10.1 inches (files can be read but not edited on anything bigger). Outlook for mobile is free to everyone on any device.
That free package may be enough for most people, especially with Apple and Google’s office suites also available free of charge. But Office has actually developed into a decent software package these days, one that’s not just something you have to tolerate or outright try to ignore on your office PC.
Teams for consumers (left) and Family Safety (right). (Screenshot: Microsoft)
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have always been packed with features – way more than what you get with the equivalent apps from Google or Apple – but in recent years, they’ve also become a lot more polished, intuitive, and enjoyable to use.
New features include a Money add-on for Excel, which automatically imports bank feeds and puts them in a template to give you an at-a-glance overview of your finances. The upgraded Microsoft Editor utility, meanwhile, checks writing style and inclusiveness as well as spelling and grammar.
Subscribing to Microsoft 365 gets you more templates, more fonts, more stock imagery, and clip art compared with just using the free Office apps for the web and on mobile. You also get add-ons like the new Presenter Coach, which will tell you if you’re stumbling over your words or not varying the tone of your speech enough while you’re working your way through a series of slides.
So how much are you going to have to pay for all this? Microsoft 365's pricing remains unchanged from Office 365: £6 a month or £60 a year for the Personal plan, which is designed for one person, or £8 a month or £80 a year for the Home plan, which gives the same features and benefits to up to six people.
If you think you’re going to spend a lot of time using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – and need a lot more than Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides can offer – then Microsoft 365 is an excellent value, especially for whole families.
Featured image: Microsoft