Microsoft rebrands Office 365 consumer subscriptions to M365; adds more new features for same price

Microsoft's Office 365 consumer subscriptions are getting a makeover, plus some new features around Teams, Family Safety, and Excel aimed at consumers.

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Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft announced its expected Microsoft 365-branded consumer service subscriptions. The two offerings, Microsoft 365 Personal and Microsoft 365 Family, are the replacements for Office 365 Home and Personal. They will be priced identically with the O365 consumer bundles and include a few additional new features.

Microsoft's M365 bundles for consumers were codenamed "Alta," and developed under the working name of "M365 Life." Microsoft has been working on the plan for these subscriptions since 2018 and intended to announce them at last year's Build conference, according to my sources.

Microsoft officials describe the M365 consumer bundles as "the subscription for your life to help you make the most of your time, connect, and protect the ones you love, and to develop and grow." This description is in keeping with the mission of the Modern Life and Devices business headed by Corporate Vice President Yusuf Mehdi: To try to win back the love of productivity-minded consumers.

Microsoft currently has more than 38 million Office 365 subscribers, according to the company's tally. Office 365 users get the Office desktop apps which they can install locally; 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage per person; 60 minutes of Skype calling minutes; and integrated security services. The M365 Personal and Family bundles, available to new users starting April 21, will be an evolution of these Office 365 consumer plans, officials said. Existing Office 365 consumer customers will see a few of these enhanced features begin rolling out to them starting March 30. 

M365 Personal will cost $6.99 a month or $69.99 per year for a single user. M365 Family will cost $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually for up to six users. More information on the features in these M365 consumer plans is here. Those currently using Office 365 Home and Personal will be moved automatically to M365 Personal and Family.

Microsoft also is readying some brand-new services which will become part of the M365 consumer plans: a Family Safety app for iOS and Android; new consumer-centric features for Teams, its group-chat platform; and a spending-tracking capability called Money in Excel.

The mobile Family Safety app will allow users to manage screen time for their children across Windows PCs, Xboxes and Android/iPhone devices. It will provide location sharing, driving reports, device time analyses and the ability to set limits. During the preview, which will be available in the coming months, all features will be free after a user signs up and gets an invitation to download. Once it's finalized Family Safety will include a free version available from the app store, but to use premium features like location alerts and drive safety reports, users will need a Microsoft 365 Family subscription.

There won't be a separate new version or SKU of Teams for consumers. Instead, Microsoft is going to add more features that it thinks will be of interest to families and groups who want to connect outside of work and/or who want to be able to switch easily between work and personal accounts. (Think actions like organizing book groups, coordinating schedules, more easily sharing and managing shared photos and videos, assigning to-do items, etc.) The preview of these new features will be available in the coming months in the mobile versions of Teams. The new features will be free to all Teams consumer users to start; in the future, there will be premium features for paid M365 consumer subscribers.

Money in Excel will allow M365 consumer subscribers to manage, track and analyze their money and spending by connecting to their bank and credit accounts. They'll be able to import transactions and account balances and get insights into their spending habits. This will be available in the coming months, starting first with the US.

Unlike the Microsoft 365 subscription bundles for enterprise customers (M365 F1, E3, E5), the new consumer-centric M365 bundles do not include a version of Windows sold as a subscription service. This makes sense, given most consumers get new versions of Windows preloaded on PCs, not via some kind of volume licensing agreement. Microsoft also is rebranding some, but not all, of its Office 365 business subscription plans as "M365," even though most of these also don't and won't include Windows and other device-management services as part of those plans.

As announced today, Microsoft is adding some incremental new feature updates to the core Office applications that will be incorporated eventually M365 Personal and Family plans. 

Microsoft's Editor capability for Word and Outlook.com will be getting more advanced grammar and style refinements, as well as a browser extension option. Presenter Coach for PowerPoint will get monotone pitch and speech refinements. PowerPoint Designer is getting more images, fonts, icons, looping videos, and premium templates. Outlook on the Web is getting the ability to link personal and work calendars, while still maintaining privacy around personal appointments and business meetings. And Skype is getting a new "Meet Now" feature that will let users create video meetings with three clicks and no sign-ups or downloads required.

(Yes, consumer Skype is sticking around for now, Mehdi told me last week. Microsoft views Skype primarily as a video-chatting app and sees Teams as a superset of Skype. Microsoft wants Teams to be users' replacement for SMS/chat, he said.)

Microsoft also is making available as part of the new M365 consumer subscriptions limited-time access to particular apps and services from Adobe, Bark, Blinkist, Creative Live, Experian, Headspace and TeamSnap. (Yes, some will label this crapware.) Luckily, these offers will be off by default and only visible if users turn them on.