Surely you’ve noticed: The old days of shopping at Best Buy for the latest version of Microsoft Office are all but over. Yes, you can still purchase a case with a DVD of Office inside, but purchasers are now signing up in droves for Microsoft’s new subscription model: Office 365.
Office 365 is designed to meet a whole slate of needs for home and business users, and because it is sold on a monthly subscription model, Microsoft does the work of keeping the software updated and as bug-free as possible, and it rolls out the updates periodically with no intervention from you. That means that if you choose to subscribe to Office 365, in theory you’ll never need to purchase and install a version of Office again. With Office 365, you always have the latest version of the software.
Microsoft recognizes that there is a whole world full of users with varying needs, and each group has its own unique expectations Microsoft Office needs to fulfill. How do you know which subscription level is right for you? This article helps you determine which version fits your needs, and gives you the subscription costs as well as the benefits you’ll gain for that monthly outlay of cash.
Question 1: Do you need Office for home or for the office?
Microsoft has developed two very different and robust tracks for Office 365. If you’re a home user, your version of Office 365 provides you with the tools you need to get your work done efficiently and effectively, and depending on the subscription level you purchase, you may be able to install Office on up to five different PCs and multiple devices.
If you’re a business user, however, Office 365 offers a different subscription and an expanded slate of services. Office 365 Small Business (at a cost of $5 per user per month) is designed for up to 25 users and includes the online versions of Office only, plus access for smartphones, 50 GB of email storage, 25 GB of online storage in OneDrive, a public website you can customize, and a video conferencing tool. What’s missing in Office 365 Small Business is a downloadable version of the Office apps or the ability to use Office on tablets (although you can always log in to your Microsoft account and access the online Office apps through Office.com on your tablet if you choose).
Office 365 Business Premium ($12.50 per user per month) gives you the fully installed versions of Office for the desktop and tablet, for up to 25 users. And Office 365 Midsize Business scales up the offering (for a cost of $15.00 per user per month) with fully installed versions of Office for up to 300 users. And this higher level of business offering also includes Active Directory integration, which manages user accounts and permissions.
Question 2: How many people will be using Office?
If you’re a home user of Office 365, you have a choice to make that depends on how many people will be using the software. If it will just be you, using your computer or device and working with Office apps, you can subscribe to Office 365 Personal. The cost is $6.99 per month and you can download and install the Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access) on one PC or Mac, and one tablet. You’ll also be able to use Office on your smartphone and always have access to the free Office apps that are part of Office Online (www.office.com).
Figure 1 If your subscription includes a fully installed version of Office, the apps appear on your desktop, ready to be used
If others in your household will be using Office on different computers (for example, your son and daughter both need Office to do school work on their laptops), you can subscribe to Office 365 Home. This cost is $9.99 and you can install Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs, as well as 5 tablets. You also have unlimited usage on smartphones and online at Office.com.
Both subscriptions include 20 GB of online storage at OneDrive per user, as well as 60 minutes of Skype calls per user per month.
Question 3: Do need to download Office to your computer or device, or can you use it solely online?
With the last incarnation of the Office Web apps, Microsoft announced the new Office hub, which is available at Office.com. Now, using your Microsoft account, you can log in and have access to your OneDrive account (where your files are stored in the cloud) as well as to all the online Office apps. These latest versions of the Office Web apps have been improved to include more tools; in fact for many projects, you may never need more than the Office online apps have to offer.
Figure 2 The Office Online apps are available at Office.com
For example, in Word Online, you have the ability not only to add, format, and enhance text, add pictures, and share your files; but you can also review and comment on others’ work in the cloud.
Question 4: Are you a student?
Microsoft has developed yet another smart subscription level for college students. With Office 365 University you (or better yet, your parents) can purchase a single subscription for79.99, and it lasts all four years you’re in school. Office 365 University enables you to access Office across multiple devices, gives you 20 GB of cloud storage, throws in 60 minutes of Skype calling per month (to 60 countries!), and enables you to download the full version of Office to your computer.
You’ll be able to access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access online and download the apps to your computer. If you don’t need all the apps and just want access to Word once in a while for the papers you need to crank out in the wee hours of the night, of course, you don’t need to have a subscription at all: you can use Office Online apps for free, using your Microsoft account.
I suppose we’ll all get used to the new subscription models of Microsoft Office. If you are accustomed to going to a store, making a purchase, and carrying a product home in a paper bag, this new way of purchasing, managing, and upgrading may take a little getting used to. But one of the major benefits of the subscription model is that Microsoft does all the updating for you, which reduces headaches and potential technical snafus. Is it worth $5.00, $12.50, or $15.00 per month? You be the judge.