James Martin/CNET

There’s a subscription for almost anything these days. You can pay companies such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney, HBO, ESPN and Quibi as little as $4.99 a month for access to vast libraries of movies and TV shows, new and old. You can pay Apple and Google as little as 99 cents a month to store your photos, documents and all sorts of other data. Video game companies such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation offer access to hundreds of games for as little as $10 per month. And don’t forget Amazon Prime, Instacart Express, Grubhub Plus as much as $120 a year to deliver take-out, groceries and all sorts of other goodies.

Microsoft is betting there’s another subscription you’ll be willing to sign up for. This service, the company says, is “the subscription service for your life.”

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The new service, called Microsoft 365, takes its Office subscription service and attempts to make it more appealing. The company’s adding new features like its Microsoft Editor, which tracks what you type and recommends different words, less jargon and more concise ways to say whatever you’ve typed. And it’s partnered with companies such as photo and video app maker Adobe, meditation app Headspace, and kid-monitoring app Bark to give its users access to some of their apps and services too. It’ll be available starting April 21, costing the same as before at $6.99 per month for an individual plan and $9.99 per month for a family of up to six people.

Microsoft believes the service will entice people by offering a merger between work and life, said Yusuf Mehdi, a Microsoft VP who helps head up its search, devices and “modern life” initiatives. “We’ll be a curator of stuff that’s out there.”

The move, which CNET sister site ZDNet reported was in the works for well over a year, marks Microsoft’s latest effort to stake out ground beyond its Office suite of software. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook have become staples of the corporate world over the decades. But increasing competition from Google’s free Docs, Sheets and Slides has pushed Microsoft to change its approach.

In 2014, the company began offering its Office suite of apps on iPads, iPhones and devices powered by Google’s Android operating system. The company also offers free access to its OneNote note taking software, which competes with apps like Evernote, Google’s Keep and Apple’s own Notes app.

Microsoft’s effort to add outside apps makes its 365 service like Xbox Game Pass, its popular $9.99 per month service offering people access to more than 260 games both from its Xbox team, as well as outside developers such Square Enix, maker of the Final Fantasy adventure series, and Bethesda, publisher of the popular Doom shooting games.

Over time, Mehdi said Microsoft plans to add more outside apps to Microsoft 365.

New features

Microsoft Editor is like spellcheck on steroids.


In addition to the new partnerships Microsoft struck for its service, the company is also adding new features, such as its Microsoft Editor. The technology, which works in 20 languages and was first offered in December as an add-on for Google’s Chrome extension, uses artificial intelligence to track what you’re writing and suggest changes for duplicate words, jargon and poor grammar. 

Now, it’s being built into Microsoft’s Office apps, and has new features like a plagiarism checker and inclusive language critiquing that will suggest terms like “police officer” instead of “policeman.”

Microsoft is also building new features into its PowerPoint presentation software that will listen as you rehearse and recommend changes. 

In Excel, Microsoft is offering new features that will connect with banks and credit cards to download people’s spending data so they can better budget their money. “It can help you improve your spending habits by providing personalized insights on how much you’re spending on categories like groceries each month and proactive alerts about price changes for recurring payments, bank fees, overdraft warnings, and more,” the company said.

Also new is an app called Family Safety that lets parents see and regulate their kids’ screen time on Windows, Android and Xbox. Parents can see the apps and games kids are using and for how long, steer them away from mature content, set their default web browser and even see what search terms kids are using.

And for when the coronavirus shelter in place limits lift, Microsoft Family Safety can send parents alerts when family members leave specific locations like home, work or school. It also will be able to track driving habits. Family safety will be available for iOS and Android devices in coming months, Microsoft said.

CNET staff writer Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.



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