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Office 365 is a subscription based package that buys you time limited access to a number of Microsoft services and software packages, including the latest desktop Office suite, an online version of Office, cloud storage, and premium mobile apps.
Office 365 follows a business model known as Software as a Service (SaaS), which has commonly been used for deploying enterprise software. With subscription-based services like Spotify, Napster, or Amazon Prime, it has found its way into the consumer software market some time ago.
Does Office 365 provide enough value to be worth the money?
Can You Still Use It on Your Desktop?
Microsoft isn’t moving Office entirely into the cloud just yet. While you can access Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with Office Online via the browser and store your documents on OneDrive, Office 365 offers many other ways to access and edit your documents. The current package of Office 365 includes the Office 2013 desktop suite (Office 2011 for Mac users). In the summer or fall of this year, you will be able to upgrade to Office 2016.
What Is Included & What Is the Price Tag?
The exact composition of the package depends on the Office flavor you choose. Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal, and Office 365 University include the following software:
- OneNote (now free for everyone)
All Office 365 packages include 1TB of cloud storage, 60 Skype world minutes per month, and free chat or phone based tech support. With your Microsoft account, you also have access to Office Online, which can work with your files stored on OneDrive and Dropbox (see Office Online Dropbox integration).
Subscriptions for Office 365 Personal start at $7 per month or $70 per year. With $10 per month or $100 per year, Office 365 Home is slightly more expensive because you can use it on up to 5 PCs or Macs, 5 tablets, and 5 phones. You can share the subscription with members of your household, slashing the price to around 20 bucks per person a year. Even if you shared the cost with one person, you pay much less than with Office 365 Personal. Each user also gets 1TB OneDrive storage free. That’s a fair deal!
Office 365 University, which is available to students and other users in academia, is only available as a 4-year subscription and will cost you $80 per 4-year cycle. While you can run it on 2 PCs, Macs, or tablets, and 2 phones, you can not share this license, meaning the price is equal to a maximum shared version of Office 365 Home, minus the hassle. To me, this makes it a much better deal. Of course you’ll have to prove your eligibility, but an academic email address does the trick.
Students and teachers, could get an even better deal. If your school is enrolled in the Office in education program, you could get Office 365 Education for free. The plan is similar to Office 365 Home, except that the license is free and cannot be shared. In addition, it comes with access to Yammer and SharePoint. Again, your email address will reveal whether or not you’re eligible.
Likewise, qualified nonprofits can also get Office 365 Nonprofit for free.
All versions of Office 365 are available on both Mac and Windows. In addition, a subscription unlocks premium features in the free mobile Office apps available for Android, iPad, and Windows Phone.
Disadvantages of Office 365 & Better Alternatives
On the downside, it’s a subscription model, meaning you have to pay a monthly or yearly fee. For someone who hardly ever uses Office and has no need for 1TB of OneDrive storage, this expense may not be worth it. If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, you can choose from several free alternatives to Microsoft Office or you could use the free Office Online and mobile apps instead.
Even with the free solutions, you’ll need a Microsoft account. While this is becoming a standard for logging into Windows, it can be annoying if you have to log into Microsoft Office on your desktop before you can save a file. If you use the same accounts for Windows and Office, however, this shouldn’t be an issue.
If you don’t want to subscribe to Office 365 or deal with a Microsoft account, but need the full Office suite, you can still buy standalone Office applications or a standalone version of Office Home & Student 2013 for Windows or Mac. Whether the standalone purchases will be available for Office 2016 isn’t clear, yet.
Advantages of Office 365
The key advantage of Office 365 is that it receives regular updates.
In 2015, Microsoft will release Office 2016, a new suite for both Windows and Mac users. Office 365 subscribers will be able to upgrade to Office 2016 at no additional cost. If you are a power Office user who wants to be ahead of the curve and always work with the latest features, an Office 365 subscription is a must-have.
But even casual users can benefit from the subscription. 1TB of online storage for as low as $20 per year by itself is amazing. And if you frequently call people abroad, for example while traveling, an hour of free worldwide Skype calls (to 60+ countries) can come in handy, too.
As mentioned above, Office 365 grants you access to the entire Office suite — online, on your desktop, and on your mobile devices. If you store your files in the cloud, you’ll always be able to access and work with your documents, regardless of location. And should you ever have an issue with the product, free Microsoft tech support is only a chat or a phone call away.
Most importantly, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars up front for a huge software package that you don’t use much in the end. Microsoft offers a free 1 month Office 365 trial, you can then pick a cheap monthly subscription plan, and cancel it anytime, in case you don’t like or use it after all.
Do You Subscribe to Office 365?
Microsoft is slowly changing its revenue model. Some products will become cheaper, such as free Windows 10, while others may appear to get more pricey. You can either take advantage of the added benefits and buy into the new business model, or stick with cheaper third-party alternatives. Any queries? Microsoft answers them in this FAQ page.
Your turn! What perks of Office 365 do you enjoy most or why would you still prefer to buy a standalone Office suite in the future? Let’s discuss in the comments!