Should you buy Microsoft Office or subscribe to it?

These days you can buy Office 2016 outright or subscribe to Office 365. Which is right for you?

Microsoft Office logoTo being with, let’s be clear about the naming of the products. “Microsoft Office 2016” refers to the latest version of Office when bought outright. Bought in this manner, you are not entitled to ongoing product updates. When purchased as a subscription, the product is called “Microsoft Office 365” and it is continually updated to the most recent version.

I have noticed among my computer support clients that many are quite strongly opposed to subscribing to software and prefer to buy it outright. This may or may not be the most rational choice. In the case of Microsoft Office, my advice is to think about your needs before assuming that the best deal is to buy it outright.

Let’s look at some examples:

Microsoft Office Modules - H & S
Only these four modules are available in Office 2016 Home and Student
You need Microsoft Office Home and Student for a single user. This costs £119.99 (but is on special offer of £89.99 until 29/11/17). If you only want Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote, and if you only want installation on one machine, then this purchase will pay for itself in 24 months when compared with a subscription to Office 365 Personal (at £59.99 per annum). Considering that Office 2016 will continue to receive Microsoft support until October 2025, it seems clear that a one-off purchase is the best bet.

However, it seems to me that most other scenarios would lead to a subscription being the better bet. Some of the situations are:

Microsoft Office Modules - All
All of these modules are available in Office 365
You need other modules of Office. If you need Outlook, then the outright purchase option is for Office Home & Business. This costs £229.99. If you need Access as well, then the outright purchase option is for Office Professional at £389.99. By the same calculation as above, these would take 4 and 6 years, respectively, to pay for themselves when bought outright. When you have a subscription, then ALL of the modules of Office are included.

You want more than one installation.
If you subscribe to Office 365 Home (at £79.99pa) , then you can install ALL of the Office programs on up to five computers in a household. This really is a no-brainer, isn’t it? These five installations can even be a mixture of PCs and Macs.

You use cloud storage extensively. Office 2016 users receive 15 gigabytes OneDrive cloud storage free of charge. 365 users receive 1tb for each user (1tb = 1 terabyte = 1000 gigbytes).

You use Skype to call landlines or mobiles. With a subscription to 365, each user gets 60 minutes free Skype calls to landlines and mobiles per month.

Whichever option you go for, you will need to have an online Microsoft account and you will need to download the software from Microsoft. You won’t get any actual CDs/DVDs however you buy it, or whoever you buy it from. Personally, I can’t see any reason to buy product code cards from John Lewis or PC World when buying a computer. You will still need a Microsoft account and you will still need to download the software from Microsoft.

Buy or Rent?
Do we subconsciously equate buy/renting property with buying/subscribing to software?
In practice, whenever I have discussed the options with my computer support clients, it has seemed that the only case that calls for an outright purchase of Office 2016 is that of a single user who doesn’t want Outlook, Access, a constantly updated program, or lots of online storage space. In these cases, Office Home and Student 2016 is the one to go for. In all other cases, a subscription would seem to be the more rational choice. I suspect, though, that there’s more than rational thought going into this. I think a lot of us have a psychological resistance to a recurring subscription as it seems as if we’re “paying for ever” or that “they’ve got us by the short and curlies” if we haven’t made a one-off purchase. There’s some kind of feeling that we’re more in control if we’ve “bought” something as opposed to “subscribed” to it.

I am currently in my third year of a 365 subscription. The renewal process has always gone without a hitch, with Microsoft always giving plenty of notice that renewal is pending. Since I am using all of my five installations (on 3 PCs and 2 Macs), I’m paying £1.33 per installation per month. I think that’s a very fair deal.

For further information from Microsoft, follow these links:

Buy Microsoft Office

The difference between Office 365 and Office 2016

Microsoft Product Lifecycles