Microsoft Teams moves beyond the office with new personal group chat functions

Microsoft has announced general availability for the personal version of Teams, which has been in preview mode since its initial announcement. Teams has become a popular chat application, though it’s usage has been exclusive to large organizations and companies so far. The new personal version of Teams is now generally available on all major platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and on the web.

It might sound strange to call your family or group of friends a “team,” but Microsoft is putting some interesting new features in place to make it an appealing alternative to Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and even SMS.

All you need to get started in Teams is a Microsoft account, which will grant you access to making all sorts of different “teams” to chat in. The neat part? Starting a Teams group chat with a selection of people doesn’t require all of them to have installed the app first. A text will prompt the non-Teams user to download the app, but will allow the group to text via SMS as if they are just group texting.

Microsoft obviously thinks there are benefits to going all-in on the Teams application. You can do a lot of the standard things you’d expect Teams to do, such as start a video call or react to messages with emoji. Teams lets anyone conduct a one-on-one video call for up to 24 hours for free, as well as groups of 100 participants for up to an hour. During the pandemic, Microsoft has waived the limitations, even letting groups of up to 300 hold video calls for up to 24 hours for free until further specified.

There are also more new features. You can now start a poll that other participants in the group chat can vote in. You can even start shared to-do lists that everyone in the group can edit. Teams also wants to give these groups a more feature-rich experience of communicating with each other. That’s what the “Dashboard” is for.

The Dashboard includes the photos that have been posted in the chat, links or files that have been shared, upcoming events, and more. Part of what’s included here depends on what starter template you use. At launch, it will include just two starter templates — one for family and one for friends.

The family option has prebuilt features such as a calendar and a chore list, with built-in reminders, due dates, and assignments. What’s included in the Dashboard can be edited and modified to fit whatever your group chat happens to need.

Microsoft has other templates in the works, which give examples for how this new version of Teams is intended to function. These other templates include trip planning, finance, project, neighborhood, and more. Microsoft says the trip planning template will include features such as the ability to pin a location, store tickets, share photos from a trip, and even store frequent flyer miles.

Microsoft didn’t mention when these extra templates would launch, but you can start using the personal version of Teams as of today. It’s available in the iOS and Android app stores, and can be downloaded on the web for desktop applications.

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