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

Why would you upgrade to Office 365?

A while ago, I blogged about Office 365, pointing out that in this version you no longer purchase the software outright, but license the use of it via a monthly or annual subscription.

Office 365I have no doubt that this change is intended to increase Microsoft’s sales. Let’s face it, Microsoft Office probably does pretty well everything that you want it to do by now. My experience with my own computer support clients suggests strongly that individual users (as opposed to medium-sized or large corporations) probably don’t use more than a small fraction of the functionality already built into Office. Why buy the product again with even more bells and whistles that you don’t care about? By persuading users to take out a subscription instead of buying the software outright, Microsoft don’t need to make another sale to get more money out of you. They know that once you’ve set up a direct debit or agreed to let them charge your credit/debit card when the time comes, then you will keep paying them money. It’s much, much easier to get money out of you this way as they don’t have to sell you anything again or persuade you to take any action at all. As Del Boy used to say, “lovely jubbly”.

And, since the version of Office that you currently receive when you opt for Office 365 is, in fact, Office 2013, then why would you make the switch?

Well, I’ve looked into it again and I have now signed up for Office 365. It may or may not be a good decision for you, but here are the advantages that make it worthwhile for me – an IT Support Consultant – to make the change:

  • It’s the only way to install the latest Office on several machines with one licence. Up to, and including, Office 2010 you could buy a three-user licence of Office Home and Student for only about £10 more than a single-user version. Microsoft have removed this option from Office 2013. With Office 365 Home you can install on five different machines and can even split that between Mac and PC machines. Previously, you had to buy separate versions to install on different operating systems. There is also a version that is less expensive that includes a licence for just one computer and one tablet.
  • There are now tablet versions (iPad, Android, Windows) of Office and you can install on up to five devices as part of the same licence if you opt for the Office 365 Home version of the product. Only Word, Excel and PowerPoint are available for tablets, but this is still a very welcome enhancement.
  • There is now no distinction between “Home and Student”, “Small Business” and “Professional” versions. With Office 365 you get all the modules (including Outlook, Access, and Publisher) automatically. Lots of users might never want these modules but for those who do (including me), then the monthly (or annual) subscription suddenly becomes a much more appealing deal than if we were just talking about the “Home and Student” version.
  • Updates to the software are automatic. This is a bit of a two-edged sword. It’s nice to know you won’t have to fork out anything extra for newer versions, but it can be very disconcerting for software to suddenly change without either asking for it or wanting it.
  • CashCowThe prices are quite good. Office Professional 2013 currently costs £389.99 for a single user. A subscription to Office 365 Personal (one user plus one tablet) costs £5.99 per month (about £72 per annum) or £59.99 for a single annual subscription. So, it would actually take 6.5 years of use for an outright purchase of 2013 to be a better bet than Office 365 Personal. And, if you really want to be pedantic, there are cashflow benefits to paying for it by an ongoing subscription and you are even reducing the risk of making the purchase as you could always choose not to renew an annual subscription. The best value is probably to be found in the Office 365 Home version. This includes a licence to install on five Macs and/or PCs and five tablets.It costs £7.99 per month or £79.99 for an annual subscription.
  • Depending on which version you choose, you can also receive up to 1tb (one terabyte – ie 1000 gigabytes) of Cloud storage with an Office 365 subscription. My computer support clients currently seem to be split about 50:50 on whether they think cloud storage is a good idea. The two main benefits it holds are that you have a remote backup of your data (so if your entire house and belongings suffered devastation by fire, theft, or flood, you would still have a copy of your data) and data created on one computer or device is immediately available to your other computers or devices (iPads etc).

Filing cabinet in the clouds

I seem to be gradually migrating all of my data to the Cloud

I only installed 365 this week, but so far I’ve not found any reason to regret the decision. The installation even seamlessly transferred my Outlook to the 365 version – including email accounts, contacts, calendar, email messages, email signatures, email rules, and add-ins.

If you only use Word, Excel and PowerPoint (of the available modules in Microsoft Office) and only use a single computer, then my previous advice still stands – you are probably better off with Office 2013. If your needs are greater than that then it may pay to investigate Office 365 the next time you want or need to change the software.

By the way, in my earlier blog entitled Buying Office 2013 I originally said that you use the software online rather than installing it on your own computer. That was wrong and I apologise. In fact, the software installs in the normal way onto your own computer.

Have Microsoft released a product they don’t want us to buy?

Years ago it was usual to buy Microsoft Office “bundled in” with a new computer. You acquired the package cheaper than buying it separately but it was only licensed for that specific computer: you couldn’t transfer it to a new computer later on. Fair enough, you got it for a good price.

Office 2010 LogoThings then changed and it became the norm to buy Office separately. If you wanted the “Home and Student” version (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote) then the best option was to buy a package that explicity said on the packaging that it was licensed for three machines. This only cost about £10 more than the same package licensed for only a single machine. In both cases you could move the package to another machine(s) simply by installing on a new machine and uninstalling from the original. This was perfectly acceptable as far as the licensing was concerned and meant that you didn’t subsequently have to buy Office again when you bought a new computer.

No problem and all very reasonable – especially as the price of Office has come down considerably over the years. I remember paying about £400 for a version of Office (’95?) that came on about 26 floppy discs! Things have certainly improved since then.
Office Home and Student 2013
Anyway, back to the present.
If you are thinking of buying the new Office 2013 then be aware that Microsoft have changed the licensing. The three user package is no longer available and, much more importantly, the licence is only valid for the machine upon which the package is first installed. Initially. you could not move it to a new or different computer. This, not surprisingly, caused a bit of a to-do. What happens, you may ask, if your computer dies a month after installing your shiny new Office 2013? To start with, Microsoft made some kind of woolly-headed concession whereby they will help you out if the computer is still under warranty. This, of course, was still rubbish. They have now conceded – up to a point – and will allow you to move your Office installation, but no more often than every 90 days. How nice of them.

And what’s behind this insanity? Office 365, that’s what. Office 365 is Microsoft’s new version of Office. Instead of paying an outright price, you pay an annual subscription. And that, of course, is nirvana for a software manufacturer. Lovely jubbly. Keep the money rolling in on an annual basis instead of convincing the punter to upgrade to a newer, better, version every three to five years. What’s more, they have no costs or hassle in distributing the product. No problems in having to disseminate upgrades and bug fixes: they just change the versions on their own servers. All this is wonderful for them but means that we, the users, are losing control of the programs we buy and use.

Office 365I confess that I haven’t used either Office 2013 or Office 365 yet so I can’t comment on their merits. I’m not the only one, however, who suspects that the dreadful licensing terms on Office 2013 are there solely to hamper sales of this product in favour of its sibling. As part of my research for this article, I was looking to find Microsoft’s main web page selling Office 2013 so I tried the obvious search term “microsoft office 2013” expecting to find Microsoft’s own site come very high in the results (as you would). The first Microsoft site that comes up doesn’t even mention Office 2013 – just Office 365. So I tried narrowing the search by using the term “buy microsoft 2013”. The first three results that came up were punting Office 365. Finally, the fourth related to Office Home and Business 2013. Not for the first time, I feel as if I’m being bullied by Microsoft.

Office 2010 is still available to buy in the usual way and is a good product. However, the cheapest I can find Office Home and Student 2010 today (30/03/2013) via Amazon is £182. Unless I’m losing the plot, this is considerably more expensive than it used to be. Amazon are selling Office 2013 Home and Student at just £92.99 today. But this is definitely a case of caveat emptor. If you are tempted to go for this (single user) deal, be sure that you are happy with the licensing (that restricts its use to a single machine and is transferable to different machines no more often than every 90 days).

By the way, if you are one of the millions of happy campers still using Office 2003 then please be aware that Microsoft will cease support for this product in April 2014, at the same time that Windows XP is officially being buried. As with that product, security updates will not be issued after that date so it will become increasingly vulnerable to attack by hackers and ne’er-do-wells.

STOP PRESS: Argos are currently (30/03/2013) selling Office 2013 Home and Student for £109.99

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Computer Support in London
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