Microsoft Unveils Teams for Consumers, Family Safety App

The company prepped a bunch of Office, mobile, and browser updates

Why This Matters:

Hardware may be sexy, but software is how work and collaboration gets done. Microsoft Teams is already growing fast in the workplace and soon it’ll be ready to invade our home life, as well.

Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Build 2017 kicked off Monday's digital briefing via web cam.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Microsoft’s latest software effort aims to mirror our new reality and push work and home life even closer together.

In a digital briefing on Monday, the company unveiled Teams for Consumers, a new Family Safety App, more Office 365 tools that extend out of the suite and onto the Web, and new Microsoft Edge features, including one that, thank the gods, finally turns all your open tabs into a vertical list. It’s also renaming its Office 365 subscription to Microsoft 365 and introducing a Family and Personal subscription option.

Yay Teams: With millions suddenly forced to work from home to maintain COVID-19 social distancing rules, Slack competitor Microsoft Teams is exploding in popularity (the company claimed it is the fastest growing app in Microsoft history).

With the update, consumers will be able to add a personal account to their current Teams account. Teams for Consumers will include a dashboard with important shared documents and information grouped together and the ability to share locations and assign and track tasks. There’ll also be a Safe section where you can store and share passwords and rewards info. All of it will be end-to-end encrypted and offer two-factor authentication.

Teams for Consumers will also support photo galleries and group video calls. A preview of the mobile phone app is expected to arrive this summer with a full release anticipated this fall.

Microsoft Teams for Consumers
Teams for Consumers Chat, Dashboard and Collaboration mobile screens.  Microsoft

You won't need an existing Teams account to sign up for Teams for Consumers, Microsoft told Lifewire. Any email address, even your phone number, will work. The service will be free but with premium features added for existing Microsoft 365 customers.

Safety First: We’re all trapped in our homes with our children right now, which means we have a better handle than normal on what they’re doing. That situation is not permanent, which may make Microsoft’s upcoming Family Safety app more attractive.

The app is designed to help parents manage their children’s experiences across Windows, Xbox and mobile phones. It offers most of the online safety features you’d expect including managing screen time by time of day (and weekdays versus weekends) and by app. It also lets the child request more time on the app. There are Web search and site filters, safe search, and online activity reports.

The app is also designed to help parents with older children who might be driving. Assuming the app in installed on a child’s phone, it can track the number of sudden accelerations and how often the phone is picked up while the car is in motion. The teenager can opt out of the tracking and Microsoft promised the data will not be shared with insurance companies. Family Safety launches later this year.

Microsoft Family Safety
Microsoft Family Safety mobile app screens.  Microsoft

Even though Family Safety first will be cross platform, screen time tracking capabilities will only be available via Android at launch. Screen time will be manageable to parents on iPhones as long as their children are using the Android app (which seems like an unlikely scenario). Microsoft says it's working on extending screen time tracking to the iOS version of the app.

Going for the Edge. Earlier this year, Microsoft relaunched its Edge browser with the Chromium engine. Now it’s pressing harder on developing unique features that might help siphon off some users from Google Chrome’s commanding browser market lead.

The most intriguing one is the ability to take all those open tabs and shift them to a more editable vertical list on the left-hand side of the screen. You can reorder the list via drag and drop (even grabbing multiple open tabs) and collapse it when you want more open browser window space.

Microsoft’s Key Updates

  • Teams for Consumers
  • Family Safety mobile app
  • Microsoft Editor update
  • Outlook Personal Calendar integration
  • Money in Excel
  • Vertical tabs in Microsoft Edge

Microsoft also added a new Password Monitor that will let you know when one of your passwords has ended up on the Dark Web. But there’s a big caveat here: You have to use Edge’s auto-complete to let the browser manage the credentials. Personally, I’ll stick with a password manager like LastPass.

In Outlook, consumers will be able to add in personal calendars later this year. The entries won’t show details but will appear for co-workers as blocked-off time.

Microsoft is also introducing a new dynamic financial template in Excel that can access and help you manage live data from your financial accounts (up to 10,000 financial institutions)

Vertical tabs in Microsoft Edge
Vertical tabs in Microsoft Edge.  Microsoft

Edit Fun: Microsoft is also updating some of Microsoft Editor features (Editor appears across Office apps), adding more tools for catching plagiarism (it looks for citations) and, notably, catching unconscious bias in writing. The example Microsoft offered was the system transforming “gentleman’s agreement” into “unwritten agreement.”

Some of these Editor tools will soon extend outside of Office with a new browser extension that will work in third-party sites like LinkedIn.

Bottom line: Even in the self-quarantining, social-distancing world of COVID-19, software development continues. Microsoft’s updates sound both useful and intriguing for consumers trying to balance home and work life, often in a single room. Now we just have to wait for them to start appearing this summer and fall.

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