Family useful features available for Microsoft accounts: Family Calendar and, for children, weekly activities report, limit screen time, sites/apps/games block and localization

There are several interesting features in any Microsoft account, that you can use whenever you use any Windows 10 device (PC/tablet/smartphone) or even other platforms, for example if you use some Microsoft apps (e.g. Outlook as a client for your email/calendar). They are all features available to everyone for free, someone since many years ago … but not so many users possibly knows their existence!

Once family settings were mostly for managing the activity of children, such as limiting screen time, viewing activity reports or finding their device locations on a map while adults in the family were merely administrators of their children’s computer access. In the Family section FAQ you can always see every new changes to family features: Microsoft updates this page regularly to keep users informed about new things they can currently use and what’s coming up next.

In the last few months (even though it was already a feature of Outlook 2013) it was added a Family Calendar, that I am using and I consider very useful. It is a calendar that everyone of the family can use to share events that can be of interest for all the family: in fact, very often there are some events that a parent or a child would like to share with all the family … and this is a very easy way to do that, much better than post it on a paper! Like any other event, you can set a reminder and you can have it shown (e.g. in the tile on the Start page) in whatever device you have Outlook (as an app or a desktop program), either PC/tablet or a smartphone.

Microsoft is not the only one who provide a Family Calendar.
Google has few services for the family too: Google Family Calendar, shared family calendar and a Google Keep, to capture and share ideas with features like reminders, shared lists and notes to help the whole family stay in the loop. To get started with the Family management you can go to Family Link or use the Play Store app (see How to handle Family Group on Google): however you can notice that it MUST be handled only using an Android/iOS smartphone … I could not find a page where I can manage a Family from a Web browser and therefore whatever device I use. It seems that, at least currently, you can create/manage a Family Calendar in Google only with an Android or iPhone app while, from a PC, you can ONLY see/add events of a Family calendar: personally, I think that this is an incomprehensible limitation …
Then there are also several Apps that handle similar tasks (e.g. FamCal (Android), Cozi Family Organizer (Android, iOS), Hub Family Organizer  (Android, iOS), Family Wall  (Android, iOS), FamJama, Chore Monster  (Android, iOS), Any.do (Android, iOS), Kidganizer (iOS) ), and may be in that specific task they do a better work than the one available from main players, …. BUT they are “stand alone” and require the installation of a new app … when very probably the user already use the Microsoft or Google Mail/Calendar!! Therefore, in my feeling, their probability of diffusion is very low: personally I will never install a new app if I have one (already installed and tested) that already can do quite the same job and moreover you expect it will evolve more and more in the future … even because available for all the platforms (PC/tablet/smartphones of any kind, at least Windows, Android, Apple O.S.) and from a browser too.

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Anyway in the following I will take a review only of the Family features implemented by Microsoft.  Let see how it works!  😉

First of all, as you can imagine, to have access to all the services available for a family, there is the need to identify who are the family members and this can be done in two ways:

  • accessing to the Microsoft Account management site : going to  https://account.microsoft.com and then to the tab Family, you can manage all the family features.

    Family section of the Microsoft Account management portal

  • from the Settings of a Windows 10 PC where you are logged with your Microsoft Account: from Settings -> Accounts, you can see that there is also a Family & other people section where you can manage your family definition,  directly from your PC Settings:

    Managing your Family from Settings -> Accounts -> Family & other people

Therefore, to manage your family features you MUST have a Microsoft account, that anyway is useful to have access to many features of Windows 10 devices (e.g. install app from the Microsoft Store, even the free ones; use the OneDrive cloud storage to possibly automatically synchronize a folder on your PCs – even though currently it is only a 5GB  free storage … but if you but Office 365 you get 1TB or more).
If you do not have a Microsoft account you can create one for free from Microsoft account sign-up page, selecting Sign in with Microsoft and then (in the popup window) choosing No account? Create one! . You can choose as username whatever email, phone or skype.
Take in mind that, whenever you have a Windows 10 PC, you possibly have already defined a Microsoft Account, as you can see also going to Settings -> Accounts -> Your info:

Manage the Microsoft Account of the logged user of Windows 10 PC/tablet from Settings -> Accounts -> Your info

The shared calendar is created automatically as part of connecting a family to your Microsoft Account.
To get started from the web site, go to the tab Family: to add each family member click on the Add a family member link and provide his/her email or mobile number, selecting if it is a child or a adult.

Popup window to add a new family member

Specifying he/she is a child you will have more control features, e.g. localization, weekly activity report, restrictions in Web browsing. Obviously every member have to accept to be part of the family with tat specific profile/role and every child is also notified of every notification sent to his/her parent (e.g. weekly activity report, sent to the email of the master member of the family, is also sent in CC to the specific child): the only missing notification is related to each localization done, service that anyway must be previously accepted by the child.

Note that Outlook mail and calendar app is available in all Stores: Google Store; Apple Store; Microsoft Store . It must be emphasized that usually the same app manage both the mail and the calendar [even though it possibly create two different icons, one called Mail (IT: Posta di Outlook) and another Calendar (IT: Calendario di Outlook)] and this happens most of the other email servers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Live … the only email I have that does not have a associated calendar seems to be Alice.it).

Take in mind that the synchronization of each new event is not done immediately and its depends also on the current synchronization configuration of the client used by each family member. In fact every email configuration page has a specific section where you can specify how you want the synchronization to be done: at least the first time you want to try this feature, possibly configure it with the shortest delay  … then, you could even relax the constraints and have the update happens every hour for example!

Let the synchronization happens appropriately

To have the Family Calendar shown on the app/site, you must select it among the calendars you want to take into account:

Select Family Calendar, available in your Outlook/live mail account, among the other Calendar you want to consider

Calendar app: Select Family Calendar, available in your Outlook/Live mail account, among the other calendars you want to consider

Select the Family calendar to have it included as one of the calendars to be used by the app (e.g. Calendar app in Windows 10)

Now that you have select the Family calendar too, you can choose it (among several calendars you can have associated to all the configured emails and available from the proper combobox) to add a new event in that specific calendar, so it will be available to all your family members.
I think it is important that a Family Calendar is integrated with other calendars the user could use
and with integration I mean not only to have a view of the events from all but also the ability to create and manage everyone events: Outlook clients have a specific combo in order to add a new event in the proper calendar (possibly the Family one) and whatever is the configured server, the every kind of management is allowed.

However, once an event is inserted in the Family Calendar, there is currently no way to know who inserted it (at least as I could see) and every member can manage the event (modify or even delete): I think that this could be some of the aspects that could be improved  …

Select the Family calendar to store the new event you want to share with your family (e.g. Calendar app in Windows 10 Mobile)

Family Calendar on Outlook.com site

Family Calendar from the Outlook.com site

The presentation of the events coming from each selected calendar (possibly also the Family one) is very well identified using a different color for the background and/or the text, and it is available for every selected view (Day, Week, Month).
Among all the views I think the weekly one is the more useful: I use it much more than the daily one. Having a quick easy way to see the weekly events is for me important and therefore I think that a calendar should always include at least this possible weekly view as well as the daily one!
… even better if it has also a monthly view, even though I quite never use it. Note that in the weekly view, if you click on the box related to one specific day, it will be expanded to better show all the events for that day (it shows for each both also the end time and the location) and possibly drill down inside each one to get all the available information.

Note that the UI change a lot depending the size of the window, so if the UWP app is running on a PC/tablet full screen or on a smartphone (and this it not only a matter of a personalization done in the Settings section of the app!): the usability of a calendar app must be very well defined and it should take into account also the available screen dimension. If you resize a UWP app on a PC, (both in height and in width) you will see that the UI will change completely, till to be similar (but not the same!!) to the one available on a smartphone: therefore the same app adapt its UI appropriately to get always the user experience as better as possible!

Calendar (Mail) UWP app - full screen on a PC/Tablet

Calendar (Mail) UWP app – full screen on a PC/Tablet

Calendar (Mail) UWP app – reducing width and height on a PC/Tablet

Calendar UWP app on a smartphone

In the weekly view, if you click on the box related to one specific day, it will be expanded to better show all the events for that day and possibly drill down inside each one to get all the available information.

Even the UI of a single event change a lot depending not only to the dimension of the window where the app is running (possibly limited by the screen dimension of the device) but also to the device where it is running.

Single event as shown in big window on a PC/tablet

Single event as shown in little window on a PC/tablet

 

Single event as shown on a smartphone (1) - Bottom menu available for setting specific options

Single event as shown on a smartphone (1) – Bottom menu available for setting specific options

Single event as shown on a smartphone (2) - Bottom menu available for setting specific options

Single event as shown on a smartphone (2) – Bottom menu available for setting specific options

There is a further note to be highlighted: there is already a way to enhance the capabilities of the Calendar app linking an external app: in fact, in the bottom menu there is a To-Do voice that allows to add this feature to that app, linking to whatever app that implement it and that the user chooses (see  registered to a URI schema, Association launching sample to get more information on how to link apps features).
As you can see from the following screenshots, the first time the user click on that bottom menu To-Do item, he is asked if he wants to choose in the Store an app that implements that activity. Currently there is only one app in the Store that implement that URI schema (Microsoft To-Do, available also in the Apple Store and in the Google Store)  but whatever app that implement that custom URI Scheme could be attached to improve the Calendar app features.

To-Do external app feature (1)

To-Do external app feature (2)

To-Do external app feature (3) – There is only one app in the Store that implements the requested URI scheme for that feature

To-Do external app feature (4) – Install the external app

To-Do external app feature (4) – once installed, clicking to the To-Do menu item of the Calendar app, suddenly open the feature implemented by the external app (the one the user chose)

What I wanted to highlight with previous screenshots is that the UI of a Calendar app must be very friendly and to be so, it changes depending of the available space; moreover it started to be open to further features providing specific URI schemes that can be used by external apps. Therefore I personally think that the current Outlook UI is very well designed (it changed several times, even only the last two years, following both designers testing and users suggestions coming from the communities) and the mechanism used to add the To-Do feature from an external app is a nice method to get more and more features from the same app.

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Other interesting feature available in the Family section are related to activity of children, such as limiting screen time, viewing activity reports (possibly receiving also a weekly email) or finding their device locations on a map. From any activity report parent can limit screen time, block some sites, apps and/or games.

Manage of activity of children, such as limiting screen time, viewing activity reports or finding their device locations on a map

Weekly mail report of a child activity

Online weekly report of a child activity

The last feature allows a parent to have the localization, in real time, of each family member added with the child role

Child real time localization from a PC/tablet

Child real time localization from a smartphone (1)

Child real time localization from a smartphone  (2)

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There are several apps (e.g. Simple Latitude  [*], Glimpse [*], SquadWatch) that allows to mutually get the position on a map with friends (that must obviously accept that!), but it requires that the app is launched at every restart of the smartphone (and possibly at any update of the app), so that a background task is running . Instead, the family localization feature embedded in any Windows 10 Mobile device does not need anything installed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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P.S. I tried the Family Calendar properly configuring my Microsoft Account and it works fine using both the Outlook mail and calendar app (on tablet/PC and smartphones of my family members) and the Outlook.com site from a browser.

Then I tried to use it from the desktop version of Outlook 2016 (where I have my business email), adding my Microsoft account email (on live.it), but I had some problem. Now in the Calendar tab there is, among Shared Calendars, also the Family Calendar but I have only read-only rights so, if I try to modify some event on it, a popup says: “You cannot make changes to contents of this read-only folder“. I cannot neither add a new event on that Family Calendar from Outlook 2016 desktop program (the New Appointment is  disabled in the menu).
I tried to see the Properties of the Family calendar, especially the Permission tab, adding my Microsoft Account email as Owned and even the Default as Owner, so with every right … but nothing changed and I am still not enabled to manage events on that Family Calendar and I can only view those inserted with the phones or with Outlook.com site from the browser.
I added a post in Microsoft forum on this topic and it seems that even other guys have currently the some problem … Then someone suggested me to have a look to the section “Known issues with shared calendars in Outlook” available in Outlook/Calendar/Share calendar of the support Office site. Here I saw that there is a topic => “I can’t edit a shared Outlook.com in Outlook 2016 (Last updated: May 2, 2017): “Currently, you can’t use Outlook on Windows to edit calendars that are shared with your Outlook.com account, even if you’ve reconnected your Outlook.com account to Outlook. We’re working to make it possible to edit shared calendars in Outlook 2016 for Windows. To edit a shared calendar, go online to your own Outlook.com calendar, open Calendar for Windows 10, or use a mobile device. Read how to Add your Outlook.com account to another mail app“.

I found there also an other current issue that I did not check yet, but that I think even more relevant => “When I edit a shared calendar in Mail for Windows 10, the edits don’t appear on other people’s calendars“: “Mail for Windows 10 does not prevent you from editing a calendar to which you only have read-access. However, any edits you make will only be local edits—other people who share the calendar will not see your edits“.

Therefore, lets wait that those known issues in shared calendars in Office Outlook 2016 will be solved 😉 …. and possibly some more features will be added, like the possibility to see (and filters) who added each event in the Family Calendar and possibly giving to him special rights (e.g. only he can delete events he inserted).

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In the following I will provide further information related to Microsoft Account and email associated with it (and alias of emails).

Take care that there is always at least one Microsoft email associated with your Microsoft Account, even thought you possibly doesn’t use it as main email (or even know that it exists!!): usually it is a live.*, outlook.*, hotmail.* … possibly all of them if you have configured aliases managing your Microsoft account from the Manage how you sign in to Microsoft page.

 Manage how you sign in to Microsoft page

Manage how you sign in to Microsoft page

You can even add one or more alias to your account, creating a new email address (currently on outllok.com or outlook.it … for Italian 😉 clicking on the Add email link of the previous screenshot and navigating toAdd an alias page (see also Add your other email accounts to Outlook.com):

Add an alias to your Microsoft account

Add an alias to your Microsoft account

 

 

 

Informazioni su Enzo Contini

Electronic engineer
Questa voce è stata pubblicata in Review e test, Windows, Windows Phone/Mobile. Contrassegna il permalink.

Una risposta a Family useful features available for Microsoft accounts: Family Calendar and, for children, weekly activities report, limit screen time, sites/apps/games block and localization

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