I recently signed up for a one-month trial of Microsoft 365 Family and I thought I’d share my experience with you below. By the end of this article, I hope to answer the question “Is Microsoft 365 Family worth it?”
What got me started on this trial was our family laptop has been getting heavy use from the kids doing their homework (thanks COVID!) and playing games. To help me get my own personal computing done, I recently purchased a Microsoft Surface Pro. I like the Surface Pro a lot. It is portable and versatile with its Microsoft pen and keyboard. However, I was still limited by files being on the laptop that were not on the Surface (and vice-versa). I need those files to work on personal projects, and the free 5 GB of Microsoft OneDrive wasn’t enough to synchronize it all.
That led me to consider using Microsoft 365 Family, which offers 1 TB of OneDrive storage for each family member and offered many other features. Let’s see how valuable those features really are.
Valuable Microsoft 365 Features
The Microsoft 365 advertising lists a dizzying array of features. I wanted to know which of those features are valuable enough to spend money on, and which are not. Let’s start with the valuable features.
My primary goal for Microsoft 365 was easily synchronizing my desktop files across multiple computers. I have about 36.5 GBs of files on my Desktop – well within the 1 TB maximum.
My first obstacle was figuring out how to make my laptop synchronize with OneDrive. The Surface Pro synchronized everything on the desktop to OneDrive. The laptop did not. It turned out the correct OneDrive Windows application setting was the “Backup” tab and selecting the Desktop. That was a little weird, since I figured “backup” meant “archive”, not “synchronize all devices.” No matter – a quick internet search cleared that up and I was synchronizing.
The 32.9 GBs of data took about 2-3 hours to upload. Not too bad. I like that OneNote can throttle your upload speed if you want, but if happy to maximize your upload speed by default. My Carbonite file backup service appears to artificially limit upload and download speeds on their end, prolonging data transfers.
Photo and Video Sync
My secondary goal is to back up my photos and videos. I have about 420 GB of photos and videos, virtually all of them being family photos. Backing those up and keeping them safe from hardware failures and human errors is important to me!
I already pay for the Carbonite backup service. Carbonite does a fine job and I’ve been their customer for years. The key question is whether Microsoft 365 Family could replace that service while also giving me other benefits of membership.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out of the box. There is no obvious way to backup an arbitrary folder with the OneDrive application. Doing a bit of internet research, I found this Microsoft help page, which helpfully declares “You cannot add non-OneDrive folders (such as C: and D:).” Since all of my media is on an external drive, that would be me.
Doing a little bit more of internet research, I found that workarounds to this problem exist, like the instructions listed here. I might try those next, but too bad Microsoft Family 365 doesn’t want to play nice with files outside a narrow set of Folders.
Money in Excel
One of the selling points for Microsoft 365 Family is Money in Excel, a fancy Excel template with a third-party plug-in that can log into your financial accounts and download transaction data.
This is an intriguing proposition. I use Excel all the time and love it. I’ve used Quicken in the past, which always seemed to half-work with my financial institutions (downloading some no problem, downloading the rest unreliably or strangely). If this spreadsheet could be a Quicken replacement, I’m in!
Once I downloaded the template, setup was easy. I successfully connected to my financial institutions and successfully downloaded a bunch of transactions. All those transactions were automatically put into categories. So far, so good.
However, somehow the financial institution associated with each transaction was lost in the process. Where there should have been a financial institution, I simply saw a “#NAME?”, which implied Excel should have set up a table of institution names but didn’t.
A quick chat with Microsoft tech support gave me a business support number to call, so I’ll try that next. Sadly, this also was a “doesn’t work out the box”.
UPDATE: 12/28/2020 – The provided service number asked me what my issue was for. Then said “all help has been moved online. Visit help.microsoft.com“. This simply loops back to the same help pages and chat I started with. The technical support supposedly bundled with Microsoft 365 hasn’t been very supportive yet.
Microsoft Editor is a plugin for Chrome and Edge. It monitors the text you type and highlights it in real time as it detects problems – much like Microsoft Word does. It is compatible with WordPress and I’m using it as I draft this article.
There is a free version anyone can use which does basic spelling and grammar checks. The free version doesn’t seem to be much above what is built into WordPress or other standard tools. The paid version unlocks “Refinements”, which Microsoft advertises as AI-powered editing tools.
This plugin thankfully did work out of the box. I am mildly happy with the real-time feedback it gives. I don’t think I’d pay for this as a standalone plugin, but I’ll take it as part of the Microsoft Family 365 bundle.
You could file this under the “Duh!” category, however, I already had a standalone license for Microsoft Office 2019. I was not in a hurry to update Office to use the “latest features” (whatever those might be).
However, I think keeping office up-to-date instead of periodically buying a new standalone license is a more convenient way to go…. if already bundled with other useful functionality. So, I’ll go with marking this as “valuable”.
Not-So-Valuable Microsoft 365 Features
Some of the advertised Microsoft Family 365 features didn’t seem useful enough to pay for the subscription. Here are my impressions of each.
Android Office App
The Microsoft Office Android App bundles together Word, Excel, OneDrive, and some OneNote features (i.e. sticky notes) into one app. That’s nice. It isn’t clear to me at all what the subscription gets me that isn’t already available in this app for free.
The app is useful if you are already storing a lot of Microsoft files on OneDrive. It gives you a convenient way to access recent files or browse for anything else you might want. So,
Microsoft Family Safety
Microsoft Family Safety is an app that extends the free version of Microsoft Family Safety that comes with having a Microsoft account. The free version lets me limit my kids’ web browsing to safe websites and keeps track of the applications they are using. This is useful, but I already set this up when I installed Windows 10.
The new Family Safety phone app includes the free features and adds the ability to track the kids’ current location and whether they are driving safely. This might be useful except my kids are so young they don’t have phones and don’t drive. I think I’ll keep it that way – since that’s probably the best way to keep them safe!
Premium Creative Content Media
Microsoft 365 Family comes with premium creative content. This would be interesting if it were a replacement for a service like Shutterstock. However, the license agreement for the free media only allows their use in Microsoft products, like a PowerPoint file. You can share and even sell your PowerPoint file, but it has to stay in that PowerPoint file. This is a bit too limited to be useful to me.
A new design ideas button in Word, Excel, PowerPoint suggests layouts and images to add visual interest to your documents. That’s nice. I don’t think I’ll use it much.
And Other Stuff
- Microsoft 365 Family also offers Partner Benefits, which essentially are a bunch of coupons for apps.
- Microsoft 365 gives you 60 minutes to make Skype calls to phone numbers worldwide. If I made a lot of international calls, I might use this feature. But I do not.
Is Microsoft 365 Family Worth It?
Microsoft 365 family helps me:
- Seamlessly switch from one device to do work with OneDrive.
- Edit my writing in real-time with Editor.
- Keep my Office applications up-to-date.
Microsoft 365 Family might help me:
- Quicken-like tracking of my family finances would be great…. if the account and institution names worked. Two rounds of tech support have not resolved the issue yet.
- Automatically back up my photos and videos…. if I can trick OneDrive into backing up files from my USB hard drive
The Not-So-Useful Yet
- The Android apps don’t seem to add anything that I can use, beyond what is already available for free.
- The creative content and design ideas are nice, but it isn’t clear how much I’ll use them.
- I don’t use Skype for international calls, so the 60 free minutes are lost on me.
- The technical support that comes with Microsoft 365 has not actually helped me resolve any problems yet.
To me, the desktop sync, plus having an always-up-to-date set of Office applications, is worth the price tag. If I can get some of the other not-quite working features working, then this bundle will ultimately save me money, since I will be able to eliminate redundant digital services.
I’d say Microsoft Family 365 is worth it!