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With the recent push toward remote work, the line between an employee's home and work life continues to blur, making last week's Microsoft 365 news -- although geared toward consumer subscriptions -- important to the enterprise.
Microsoft introduced a bevy of new features to its Office 365 subscription service intended to make the suite of software more useful in one's personal life. It also plans to rebrand the service as Microsoft 365 on April 21.
"As many of us work and learn remotely, we're acutely aware of all the different ways life can interrupt work and work can interrupt life," wrote Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft's corporate vice president of modern life, search and devices, in a blog post.
Among the Microsoft 365 news announcements that might affect workers are an AI-powered editor program, new presentation tools and a unified calendar in Outlook.
These alterations, said Eric Klein, an independent technology analyst, come as COVID-19 has forced a reevaluation of workflow.
"There's definitely going to be a disruption in the way folks in big companies work together and collaborate," he said, pointing out that features, such as the calendar, will be helpful in the new normal. "I think that's a start in the right direction, and it makes a lot of sense."
The company's expanded Microsoft Editor, which is available for Word and Outlook and as a browser extension for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. The editor not only identifies spelling and grammatical errors but can also suggest ways to rephrase a sentence and ensure content is original, not plagiarized, through a "similarity checker."
A new Presenter Coach feature enables employees to rehearse their PowerPoint presentations and view feedback on ways to make them more dynamic. The coach will, among other things, tell subscribers if they are speaking in a monotone, using too many filler words or if their presentation is phrased awkwardly.
"While you're rehearsing, Presenter Coach uses AI to detect if you're talking too fast, saying 'um' too much or just reading from your slides," Mehdi wrote in his blog post.
Outlook's calendar has also been changed, Mehdi wrote, to help employees better manage their work and personal commitments.
"With these new features, you can link your personal calendar to your work calendar to show your real availability in your work account, while still maintaining privacy around the details of personal appointments and business meetings," he wrote.
An evolution, and a glimpse into the future
Art Schoeller, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said many of the new features are applicable to the business world, although the Microsoft 365 news emphasized importance to the consumer. Several of the changes -- including the editor and presentation tools -- are essentially incremental improvements upon what is already within the suite, he said.
"[They are] part of the ongoing evolution, and, of course, confusion, of Office," he said, referring to the addition of personal features into what had been a business-focused software suite.
Having said that, Schoeller noted that some features such as the new Microsoft Family Safety app, which tracks family members through their mobile devices, should only be for personal use.
"[It's a] red flag, in my opinion, if this is available for businesses, as [it's] a privacy concern," he said.
Klein said Microsoft's approach mirrored the now intertwined nature of one's business and personal lives.
"The lines are blurred quite a bit on this stuff," he said. "Now, with everyone readjusting to a work-at-home model, I think there's going to be more formalized work-at-home arrangements with employers."
Eric KleinIndependent technology analyst
Indeed, Klein said, work-from-home has been gaining traction in recent years, although the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated it. To maintain its prominence in business, Microsoft must evolve with the times.
"The Office franchise is still a key strategic portion of what Microsoft does as a business," he said. "It doesn't represent necessarily a significant chunk of their revenues as an organization, but it's still critical for them to retain that foothold in the enterprise."
According to Klein, Microsoft's approach to Office -- moving to web-based services -- might hint at how they will approach future versions of Windows. It could look to deliver more of its operation system's key features through the web -- although it must balance innovation with retaining loyal customers.
"Microsoft has a lot at stake here," Klein said. "The Windows franchise is still strong [and] still very, very prevalent in the enterprise."