You’ll be pressed to find an occupation that doesn’t require word or number processing of some sort. Whether you need to produce a presentation, report, table, graph, or worse, you’ll want to work with software. that makes your job easy.
A professional office suite typically comes with a host of applications, including a word processor, but also tools to produce, presentations, spreadsheets, databases, a calendar and mail app, and often more. Whatever it is that you actually want to get done, ask yourself one question: “Is Microsoft Office really the best solution I need?”
With five different types of office suites available, we’re going to help you work out which is the best solution for you, whether you’re a student, working from a home office or running a small business.
The Choice Microsoft Wants You to Make: Office 365
Microsoft wants you to put your faith into the Office 365 suite. It comes with different setups and prices, depending upon your requirements.
You might select the Home, Personal, Small Business, or Students options, each of which offers the usual applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, with only some offering Access) plus Skype credit and enhanced OneDrive access. Microsoft imposes a limit on the number of Windows or Mac OS computers you can install Office 365 on, but allows additional Android or iOS installations of Office Mobile. But how does this differ from buying the traditional desktop version of Office?
Well, there is the subscription. With a monthly or annual payment for the service, Microsoft is able to lock you into its Office ecosystem. If you’re a student, you only need to spend $139.99 (£59.99) for a four-year subscription, which should cover the length of most courses. Business users benefit from an enhanced selection of tools, with hosted versions of Exchange Server, Lync, and SharePoint.
Essentially, Office 365 is Microsoft Office as a subscription with cloud storage and Skype credit bundled in. If you need the enhanced cloud storage (your documents will be saved to OneDrive by default) and Skype credit, and feel you’ll benefit from a monthly subscription and tablet versions of Office, then Office 365 would be the best option for you.
Note that Office 365 offers a trial version, one of the various ways in which you can use Microsoft Office apps without paying. Using Office 365 does require a bit of a rethink, a renewed appreciation of just what an office suite does. It is a new way of doing things, so our introduction to Office 365 will clear up any confusion you might have about this particular option.
Old School Desktop Office
Although Microsoft is pushing its Office 365 subscription, you can still buy the standalone Office 2013 suite and be done with a one-time purchase. This option is also available for the forthcoming Office 2016, which has only been released for the Mac so far.
Meanwhile, Office 2013 for desktops comes in different packages. Office 2013 Professional is $399.99 (£389.99) and comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access, while Office Home & Business 2013 is $219.99 (also £219.99 in the uK), and gives you Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook. Finally, if you’re a student you can get Office Home & Student for just $139.99 (£109.99), with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Does your budget suit the old-style desktop solution? If you don’t need Skype and OneDrive support, then it would seem sensible to forego these bells and whistles for Office 2013. If upgrading from an older version concerns you, consider enrolling on an online course to top up your Microsoft Office skills.
Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft Office
If you couldn’t care less about the peripheral features Microsoft has been introducing to its core productivity suite, particularly Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, you might want to abandon Microsoft Office in favor to an open source solution. An additional benefit is that these tools are usually free (with paid support). But are they really competent replacements for Microsoft Office?
Well, things got off to a slow start with solutions such as OpenOffice (now evolved into LibreOffice). With the arrival of former Microsoft Office users, frustrated with the Ribbon interface introduced in Office 2007, things seem to have developed considerably.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to spot a difference between LibreOffice or WPS Office and Office 2003, which is still considered by many to be the pinnacle of Microsoft Office, the moment when everything just worked and before Microsoft got distracted with needless bells and whistles. Our comparison of LibreOffice and Office 2013 demonstrates just how close things are.
If you’re disillusioned with Microsoft Office, don’t want to use the Ribbon interface, or have migrated to a Linux desktop (although these alternatives are available for Windows), then consider these solutions ahead of Office. Also, if you don’t have the funds to invest in a Microsoft Office suite, the free options are the sensible choice.
Office Apps for Your Smartphone or Tablet
Use an iPhone or iPad, or perhaps an Android phone or tablet? If so, you will find that there is a free Microsoft Office app for your platform. Windows Phone users can use Office natively with built-in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Meanwhile, owners of a Windows tablet larger than 10.1″ will have to pay for universal Office apps, but they will also have the benefit of a user interface better optimized for touch.
But are these versions any good? Well, it depends on what you’re expecting.
By their very nature, these apps don’t replicate the desktop experience. For instance, with Office Mobile on Windows Phone, Word and Excel are very similar to the originals in a stripped back form, but PowerPoint doesn’t even allow you to create a new presentation, only edit and play back existing ones.
In fact, you might prefer to avoid Word in favor of the free OneNote app, which will automatically sync to any desktop version of OneNote you own, thereby ensuring the work you have done is not lost. This also saves messing around browsing the OneDrive Office storage, as the OneNote syncing is automatic, making it a superb mobile productivity tool.
The story is similar on Android and iOS. These mobile versions are really only for anyone desperate to use Excel or edit PowerPoint. For the rest of you, the OneNote app does the job admirably.
(If you were using Office 365 with mobile apps, the subscription would give you access to your Office 365 OneDrive storage, enabling easy opening and editing of the documents.)
Online Office Apps
We’ve already mentioned that Office 365 includes Office Online, but you don’t need an Office 365 subscription to gain access. All you need is a free Microsoft account.
Go to office.live.com and sign in or create a new Microsoft login. Here you’ll find a collection of browser-based apps, versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and even Outlook. You’ll also find OneDrive and Dropbox integration.
As useful as these browser versions are (and they do tend to prove useful, far more than the mobile apps) they are hamstrung by not being full versions, so don’t have the entire range of features usually found in Office 2013 apps. But if you don’t need those features, then Office Online should be your default choice of free office suite.
You Are Spoilt for Choice
Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only browser-based office suite in time. Google Docs has been around for some time, and with strong integration with Android devices and the ability to great text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, it is a strong competitor for Microsoft in this space. You can also open Microsoft Office documents in Google Docs and edit them, support that isn’t available in the other direction.
Perhaps you’re low on funds for an office suite or don’t have the physical space to run one. Ideal for high end tablets and netbooks, as well as those using thin clients, the browser-based office solutions from Microsoft and Google are pretty similar, and should get the job done. Having the document stored online and shared with the appropriate collaborators also makes online office apps a strong option for team projects.
Have you been sweating over which type of office suite to use? Was money an issue, and have you found the solution? If you have any comments or questions, leave them below.
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