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

We are being bombarded with offers of “free cloud storage”

Cloud ClipartThe phrase “in the cloud” just means that computers remote from our own local network are involved. I covered this in a blog three years ago called Cloud Computing, but then I was thinking more of the provision of software in the cloud rather than just storage space for our data.

Today, though, I’m just looking at the provision of storage space. You can avail yourself of free cloud services just to use the storage space – whether or not the service actually includes software. Some of the most popular are:

Google Drive – 15gb space, 10gb max file size
OneDrive (was Skydrive) – 7gb space, 1tb max file size (you’d need to upgrade to a paying service for a 1tb file)
Amazon – 5gb space, 2gb max file size
Dropbox – 2gb initial free space, max file size is the same as available space
Box – 10gb free space, 250mb max file size

Filing cabinet in the cloudsThe free space listed above is what they are advertising today (28/05/2014). There are often special offers. For instance, I was lucky enough to latch onto “Box” at a time when they were offering a whopping 50gb free space. And with the Dropbox service, you can earn extra free space – eg by introducing other users. In fact, if you were to open a free Dropbox account via the link above, then I would receive an extra 500mb space for introducing you and you would earn an extra 500mb space for joining via a referrer (me).

Why would you use cloud storage?

  • It provides you with a “remote backup”. In other words, if the worst happened and all your computers, files, backup drives, usb drives, DVDs, and everything else were all lost in one single event (such as fire, theft, or flood) then the remote copy in the Cloud would not be affected.
  • It can provide a way of synchronising data between lots of devices (eg a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop). True synchronisation is when the data is kept on different devices and they are all kept “in step” (in this case, via a Cloud service). An alternative to synchronisation is to use the Cloud storage as the ONLY copy of the data. In that case, no synchronisation is necessary, but you do have to have an active internet connection to access the data. Most cloud storage services offer the ability to synchronise to your local device.

Why wouldn’t you use cloud storage?

  • If you were very concerned about the privacy of the data you were storing in the cloud. Although the data is encrypted, it has come to light that some of the storage companies could decrypt the data if they had to. All these storage companies will divulge your data in response to legal instruction to do so – eg in response to government agencies demanding legitimate access to the data. How much the most powerful governments can also glean by other methods is, of course, now open to conjecture. You could also encrypt your data yourself before sending it to the cloud so that it has been double-encrypted by the time it is stored in the cloud. This could get messy, though, if you wanted to access the data from devices running different operating systems (eg a mixture of Windows, Mac, and Android).
  • If you have lots of data to store, it may not fit in the allocated space. Also, some services have limitations on the size of individual files. That great Box account of mine has the slight drawback that it will not store files bigger than 250mb.
  • If you have a feeble internet connection then it may be too tedious to upload files to the Cloud.

So why are all these companies competing to offer us a free service?

Clouds on laptop screenNo doubt they are trying to build large customer bases that they will be able to capitalise on in the future. Even now there are usually “professional” versions of the free storage plans that charge a monthly subscription for an enhanced service.

This is exactly where the computer companies want us to go. The likes of Microsoft have realised that it’s difficult to keep selling “new improved, enhanced” versions of their software every 2-4 years. From a marketing point of view it’s much better to get people to sign a direct debit for a small monthly amount that they will continue to pay month after month, year after year. This is the basis for the Office 365 version of Microsoft Office. I’m not quite sure when they sneaked it past us, but if you open Word 2010 on a Windows 8 computer and go to open a file, then the initial (the default) location that it will look for the document is now “OneDrive” (the renamed Skydrive – Microsoft’s Cloud storage service). Presumably this only happens if you actually have a OneDrive account. Nevertheless, I would prefer to have chosen to change the default to a cloud location myself rather than be led by the nose by Microsoft. Maybe this can be changed in Word or Window “Options” but I couldn’t find it.

In conclusion, as far as I am concerned it’s worth using Cloud storage for purposes of synchronisation (for this I use Dropbox) and for storing “remote backups” that I wouldn’t want to lose altogether. I still prefer to think of my own laptop as being the centre of my computing world and I suspect that a lot of other people do likewise. I’m prepared to bet, though, that we’ll allow ourselves to be herded in the direction that the big computer companies want us to go and I think that this is already starting to happen. I think that cloud storage is here to stay and will probably become the norm.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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