Best Microsoft Office Versions: A Comprehensive Guide

Looking for the ideal Microsoft Office version to enhance your productivity? Since its 1990 debut, Microsoft Office has been essential for academic, business, and everyday tasks. But with so many options, how do you choose? I’ve compiled key questions to guide you, whether you’re a student, professional, or managing home projects. So whether you’re a student, parent, or professional, here are some tips for determining the best Office version to get.

Before diving into the details, it’s important to note that Microsoft has undergone some rebranding. In March 2020, Microsoft changed its consumer office subscription service from “Office 365” to “Microsoft 365”. This name change has caused some confusion among users, but rest assured that the same great programs are still available. Throughout this article, I will refer to both Office 365 and Microsoft 365, but keep in mind that they are the same service.

Factors to Consider

There are multiple versions of the familiar Office suite available now. Deciding on which one is best for you relies on several factors. The good news is for the subscription versions, you can try it before you buy. The subscription plans also allow you to upgrade or downgrade your plan.

Subscribe or One-Time Purchase?

Microsoft offers two software models: the classic one-time purchase and the newer subscription service called Microsoft 365. The one-time purchase includes the year in their titles, such as Office Home & Business 2021 or Office Home and Student 2021, and typically includes licenses for 1 PC or 1 Mac. On the other hand, Microsoft 365 is a monthly or annual subscription service that includes premium features and automatic new feature updates.

The newer model is a monthly or annual subscription service called Microsoft 365. As you might guess, you pay until you cancel. However, the software suite is continually updated, regularly adding premium features. One recent example is the Excel XLOOKUP function.

If you choose the subscription plan, you can switch between the personal and family plans without reinstalling the software.

Are You a Student?

If you’re a student, you’re fortunate to have additional options. Many schools offer a free version of Office 365 for the web that works with your school email address. Your school needs to be an accredited academic institution . And for a bit more, you can also get access to the desktop counterparts.

Another option is to buy Office Home and Student 2021.

Does your Employer offer a Home Use Program?

If you’re already using Microsoft 365 for work, you might want to check if your employer offers a discounted Home Use Program. Currently, the Microsoft Store offers a 30% discount on these plans. You’ll need to sign up using your work email address. Microsoft will then check that email against its database of participants.

Are Family Members Interested?

Yes, size does matter. While you can get single subscriptions, buying the family version is usually more economical. For an additional $30 a year, you can add 5 more people to your family plan. This also means each member gets 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage. This is economical when you figure Microsoft charges $9.99/mo for an extra terabyte anyway.

This plan also includes the Microsoft Family Safety mobile app. The app allows you to set time limits on programs and devices. The app also allows you to set content filters, making blocking certain websites much easier. You’ll also get activity summaries.

How Often Do You Use Office?

If you don’t use Microsoft Office frequently, consider using the limited versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, which are free with a Microsoft account and used within your web browser. These versions don’t include all the program features, they may have what you need and are a good risk-free alternative.

Although these are limited in that they don’t include all the program features, they may have what you need. They are certainly a good risk-free alternative.

Microsoft 365 (Subscription)

Microsoft 365 is the program formerly known as Office 365. The name changed officially in April 2020 as a part of Microsoft’s rebranding as an “all-in-one” platform. This bundle includes the latest versions of:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Defender
  • Designer
  • OneDrive
  • Outlook
  • One Note
  • Sway
  • Forms
  • Teams
  • Clipchamp

This premium version offers more templates and document design features than the regular versions. This software set is usable on personal computers and mobile devices and is compatible with Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. 

The new features introduced in this plan (over the 2019 version) are the Office mobile app and the Editor feature, a slightly more advanced version of their existing proofreading software.

They’ve also updated the security software for the package by adding automatic saving and backups, digital file protection, and two-step verification. There’s also 24/7 technical support available through the Microsoft website or customer service email. And, I have to say, I’ve been pleased with their online chat help as I had to consult them when I had issues with some readability statistics and the new editor.

The Microsoft 365 plan has two versions – one for personal use and one for family use.

Microsoft 365 Personal (Subscription)

Microsoft 365 Personal is a plan designed for one person (or profile) that can be used across multiple devices. In addition, it includes up to 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage. 

This plan costs $69.99 for a yearly subscription or $6.99 monthly and is preset for automatic renewal.

Microsoft 365 Family (Subscription)

Microsoft 365 Family covers up to 6 people. You can store 1TB of data in OneDrive per person, up to 6TB. You can also access the Microsoft Family Safety mobile app, which allows you to receive key alerts for program use and data security across all profiles.

This plan costs $99.99 for a yearly subscription, or $9.99 per month, and is preset for automatic renewal. You can try it for one month for free. 

Office Home and Student 2021

Office Home and Student is a one-time purchase of Microsoft Office software for a single PC or Mac. It includes the 2021 Microsoft Office versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and is licensed for home use. 

It isn’t licensed for commercial use, however. The package also doesn’t include access to other Microsoft products, such as the updated versions of the three programs, OneDrive, Outlook, or OneNote. 

Office Home and Student costs $149.99 and offers no trial period. In addition, there are discounts and free versions for eligible students and educators at certain academic institutions through Office 365 Education.

One advantage of this offer is knowing the cost, although sometimes you can see deals. I do have 2 concerns. The first is Microsoft is trying to get people over to subscription models. I don’t see them coming out with newer versions. My second concern is how long Microsoft will provide updates other than security patches and bug fixes.

Free Office Online

The free version of the Microsoft 365 suite is available online through the Microsoft website. It’s advertised as a great way to collaborate as a professional team in a shared workspace. It includes:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • OneNote
  • Sway
  • Outlook
  • People
  • Calendar
  • OneDrive
  • Forms
  • Skype

The plan is, in fact, completely free and only requires a Microsoft account to use. In addition, its programs are similar to the desktop versions, despite being slightly more limited to run in an online environment.

Though, you cannot download the programs onto your personal device. In addition, you can’t access them offline, meaning you need an internet connection to edit your work. A few file types and popular programs (Access and Publisher) are missing from the online lineup.

Where’s Microsoft 365 Personal 30-day trial?

There is no Microsoft 365 Personal trial. You can look throughout the Microsoft website, but all the links show the Microsoft 365 Family option details. But there is another option.

The workaround is to download the family version and turning off the recurring billing before the 30-day period ends. Then you can switch back to Microsoft 365 Personal. Like many software trials, you will need to provide a credit card first.

Is Microsoft Office 2024 Replacing Office 2021?

An obvious question question people have is what’s the release date for the next version of Microsoft Office.  There is no formal date set although people internal to Microsoft have been testing Microsoft Office 2024.  Most likely this will be released toward the end of 2024. This will be a “Perpetual License Version” that will replace Office 2021.

In this instance, “perpetual” means it’s a one-off purchase and not a recurring subscription. This also means that at some point, the product will not be supported by Microsoft. For example, Microsoft will stop supporting Office 2021 on October 13, 2026. 

Summary & Comparison Table

Microsoft 365
(Personal)
Microsoft 365
(Family)
Office Home & Student
2021
Number of Profiles12-61
Number of Devices5Unlimited1
Programs IncludedWord
Excel
PowerPoint
Microsoft Defender
OneNote
Outlook
OneDrive (1 TB storage)
Clipchamp (video editor)
Teams
Designer
Sway
Word
Excel
PowerPoint
Microsoft Defender
OneNote
Outlook
OneDrive (1 TB storage)
Clipchamp (video editor)
Teams
Designer
Sway
Word
Excel
PowerPoint
(Classic 2021 versions)
Price$69.99 (Yearly) or $6.99 (monthly)$99.99 (Yearly) or $9.99 (monthly)$149
Free TrialNot directly, see workaround30 DayNo
SubscriptionRenews yearly or monthlyRenews yearly or monthlyNo
Support24/7 tech support24/7 tech support60 Day support, then basic coverage

The different Microsoft Office versions and plans have unique benefits and drawbacks. However, they each present the same basic software but work well for different people. 

If your whole family uses the Office suite heavily for home and work, consider getting the Microsoft 365 Family plan. On the other hand, if you’re the only one using the full gambit of features, consider the Microsoft 365 Personal plan.

If you’re a student or someone who needs the absolute basics for daily work, you might consider Office Home and Student 2021. If you don’t mind working online with limited features, the free plan may work well for your personal or business use.

The decision of which Office version is best comes down to the products you use, how you use them, and how often you use them. Hopefully, armed with the knowledge of each plan’s key features and drawbacks, you can choose the one that’s right for you.