Microsoft Teams is now available for free to the general public so you can use the video chat app to connect with friends and family.
A preview for the service launched about a year ago as a near clone to the version made for business users. It includes a chat feature as well as video calls, calendars, location sharing and easy file transfers. As part of the new feature, Microsoft is offering everyone free 24-hour video calls, allowing you to meet with up to 300 people for a full day (please, take some breaks).
The generous offering won't last forever; when it expires, Microsoft will enforce 60-minute limits for group calls of up to 100 people after the pandemic but continue to allow 24-hour calls for chats between individuals.
Microsoft Teams for personal use isn't an entirely new app. It all works through the same Teams program you may have used for work, except this time you'll log in with your personal email. When you hit the "Welcome to Teams" intro page, select "Personal" from the drop-down menu.
Once you're in, you'll notice some slight changes to the user interface; chats look and feel more like instant messages instead of there being channels. The main dashboard includes options to show your calendar, photos or location, and you can quickly share a file with a friend or family member directly from the chat. Family members who don't have Teams aren't left out — they can receive group chat messages directly in an SMS text. Polls will be added to the chat app later.
Adopted from Skype (Microsoft's other video chat app), Together mode uses AI to place your face and shoulders next to the people you're talking to in a virtual environment. It may look strange but it gives the impression of being in the same room as them.
Microsoft Teams for personal use is now available on mobile (iOS and Android) and the desktop app. If you'd prefer to not download anything, Teams is also available on the web. For now, you do not need a Microsoft 365 subscription to use the chat feature.
The personal version of Teams comes at an interesting time as the coronavirus pandemic seemingly reaches its closing stages in certain countries. Companies are now making plans to bring employees back into the office, and visiting family and friends is becoming less of a risk as the vaccine rollout continues. Is Microsoft too late to the game? We will find out in the coming months.