Microsoft Office – Which version should you get?

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If you are purchasing or upgrading your Microsoft Office suite, you may have noticed there are quite a few different versions to choose from. How do you know which one to get? Which one offers the best value for your hard-earned money? Once you’ve decided on a version, where should you buy it to get the best price?

Microsoft now offers two models for purchasing the MS Office suite:

  1. The traditional desktop version – a one-time purchase
  2. An annual subscription that must be renewed each year

Office365-vs-office2016

Both purchase models have advantages and disadvantages. Deciding which one is right for you comes down to which offers the best value for your situation.

The Traditional Desktop Version

The traditional model of purchasing MS Office is what we’re all used to. You purchase a copy of the latest MS Office Suite and get a license to use that software for the life of your computer. In many cases, you are also allowed to transfer the software to a new computer if you remove it from your old one first.

The main advantage to this model is you make a one time purchase and can keep using the software as long as you want. The caveat to this is that you’re stuck with the version you purchased. When a new version of MS Office is released, you don’t get the upgrade unless you purchase it all over again. But, if you’re content to keep using the same version, this might be the best purchase model for you.

Microsoft has typically released a new office suite every three years, so if you purchase Office 2016 now, when it’s fresh, you’ll have 3 full years to use it before you could upgrade anyway.

The biggest disadvantage to this model is that the license is only good for one computer. If you want to use Office on other computers in your home or business, you’ll have to purchase more licenses.

If you only need Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, you’ll be fine with the Home & Student version. If you also need Outlook, you’ll have to get the Home & Business version. And if you need Access or Publisher, then it’s time to go with Office Professional.


Desktop Versions:

Good for installation on one computer for life.

Office Home & Student 2016

Includes:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
Lifetime license for 1 PC or Mac


Office Home & Business 2016

Includes:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook
Lifetime license for 1 PC or Mac


Office Professional 2016

Includes:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher
Lifetime license for 1 PC
(Sorry Apple users, no Mac version)
OK for Business Use


The Subscription Model

The subscription model of using MS Office is only a couple years old. It’s called “Office 365”. You pay an annual subscription and get access to the latest versions of the Office applications. If a new version is released, you’ll automatically get access as soon as it comes out. This model also allows you to install copies of the Office applications on multiple computers and devices, including mobile and tablet devices. Office 365 also comes with cloud services, such as online storage, Skype minutes, and hosted email for businesses.

The advantages of this model include access to the latest versions of each Office application and the ability to install and use the software on multiple devices. The main disadvantage is you have to keep paying a subscription fee each year if you want to continue using the software. If you don’t pay the annual subscription, your Office applications will stop working.

Office 365 Subscriptions:

Good for 1 year. Comes with Office 2016 and includes all future upgrades.

Office 365 Personal

Includes:

  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook
  • Ongoing Upgrades as long as subscription is current
  • Includes 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage
  • License for 1 PC or Mac, plus 1 tablet and 1 phone

Office 365 Home

  • Same as Office 365 Personal, but license is good for 5 PCs or Macs, plus 5 tablets and 5 phones
  • Great value if you need Office on more than 1 PC or Mac

Includes:

  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook
  • Ongoing Upgrades as long as subscription is current
  • Includes 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage
  • License good for 5 PCs or Macs, plus 5 tablets and 5 phones

Office 365 University

  • Same as Office 365 Personal and Home, but subscription is for 4 years instead of 1 year
  • License good for 2 PCs or Macs, plus 2 tablets and 2 phones
  • Only for use by university and college students, faculty, and staff

Includes:

  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook
  • Ongoing Upgrades as long as subscription is current
  • Includes 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage
  • License good for 2 PCs or Macs, plus 2 tablets and 2 phones

Office 365 Small Business

Includes:

  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher
  • Ongoing Upgrades as long as subscription is current
  • Business email and a shared calendar
  • Company website tools
  • HD video conferencing
  • License good for 5 PCs or Macs, plus 5 tablets and phones, but only for a single user

Where To Buy It?

Ok, so now you’ve decided which subscription model and version of Office to go with. You’re not done yet. Now you have to decide how and where to get your software.

While prices for these products change frequently as sales and other deals occur, the best prices are most consistently on Amazon.

Download or Key Card?
There are typically two options offered for getting your software. Download or Key Card. In both cases, you’ll have to download your software (the days of shipping you a disc are over), but the Key Card option is often cheaper.

With the Key Card option, you’ll receive a product key in the mail, after which you can go to Office.com and download the software directly from Microsoft.

If you choose the Download Now option, you’ll be taken to Office.com immediately after purchase and can proceed to download and install the software right away, without waiting for a product key to arrive in the mail.

In either case, you’ll almost certainly save tens of dollars by purchasing from Amazon rather than going straight to Microsoft’s store at Office.com.

Still not sure? Compare versions with this chart (click to see full chart):

Microsoft-Office-version-comparison-chart

Nate Phillips has been using Quicken and TurboTax for almost 20 years. He has spent part of that time as a Quicken beta tester, helping identify bugs and annoyances with Quicken updates before they are released. Nate holds a master’s degree in Computer Science and has numerous technology certifications.