It was a pretty quiet week in the world of consumer technology, although everyone is still finding ways to get bent out of shape about using Zoom (see below for more). Here are my top tech stories of the week:
Welcome to Microsoft 365! In the biggest non-story story of the week, Microsoft officially changed the name of its Office 365 product to Microsoft 365. But not completely. Only some plans are now called Microsoft 365, and some are still called Office 365. Because, according to Microsoft, the name change will simplify things. Right. What is new is that some of the Microsoft 365 plans are directed at consumers and families, to signal a shift away from a business-only focus. Microsoft is also rolling out some new features, including Microsoft Editor, an AI-powered grammar and style checker, the ability to download banking transactions in Excel, making Microsoft Teams available for free to just about everyone, and Microsoft Family Safety, an app that helps you manage family screen time across Windows devices. Confusion around the rebranding or not, I have to say that Microsoft continues to improve its Office products, which in my opinion is the strongest productivity suite available today.
Microsoft Argues for….Open Data? This issue of the Tech Fix may be a little MS-heavy, but with good reason: this week Microsoft announced its intention to begin sharing its data with other technology companies, and to develop collaborations with those tech companies to make this data more freely available to those who can make use of it. In announcing the initiative, Microsoft notes that fewer than 100 companies collect more than 50% of the data generated by our online interactions, which limits the benefits that can be realized by sharing this information. I know what you’re thinking: oh boy, another company wanting to take our personal information and spread it around. Hopefully not; Microsoft pledges to adopt a set of principles to guide how data will be shared, including making it Open, Usable, Empowering, Secure, and Private. We are already seeing the good that can come of large amounts of data being used to track and understand how COVID-19 is behaving; I’m cautiously optimistic that this project has the potential to do similarly great things.
Can We Stop with the Zoom Stories Already? Yes, Zoom’s user base skyrocketed from 10 million in December to 300 million this week, so of course it’s bound to get a lot of attention. Plus, we all seem to be on Zoom all the time, whether for business meetings, conferences, happy hours, dance classes or meditation sessions. Now the experts are saying that Zoom Fatigue is here, providing explanations for why Zoom calls drain your energy. Indeed, it seems like the news cycle the past 3 weeks has gone a little like this:
Week #1: Zoom is great! I’m using it for work and getting to see my friends at virtual happy hours! I love Zoom!
Week #2: Zoom is horribly insecure, and hackers are just waiting to hack into our personal meetings – stop using Zoom!
Week #3: Zoom is draining our energy and causing fatigue, and we are all terribly depressed – bad Zoom!
There’s no question that each of those statements is at least partially if not completely accurate. But do we all have to pile on Zoom? Notwithstanding the security issues (which are serious, but are being addressed by Zoom), we could substitute any other online meeting service for Zoom, and the results would be the same. No matter which service we use, they start out being great technology tools, but after weeks of overuse become a drag. I think we need to acknowledge that the issues here relate to the challenges of working from home, not just Zoom. This time we are spending in isolation will have great effects on all of us, but I’m hoping we can avoid placing the blame on a single video service.