Microsoft Office has been the go-to productivity suite since its introduction in the 1980s. Its wide variety of programs, each with a huge amount of technical capability. They are increasingly useful in the academic and business worlds and in everyday administrative work. So whether you’re a student, parent, or professional, here are some tips for determining which Office version to get.
Before getting into the details, it’s important to note that Microsoft has done some rebranding. In March of 2020, Microsoft changed its consumer office subscription service from “Office 365” to “Microsoft 365”. This was a name previously used on some enterprise products.
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 has two software models. The first is the classic one-time purchase that includes the year in their titles, such as Office Home & Business 2021 or Office Home and Student 2021. Typically, these are licenses for 1 PC or 1 Mac. They are sometimes referred to as the “classic versions.” These versions do not include 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, with premium features added regularly. 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. For starters, 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, it’s usually more economical to buy the family version. For an additional $30 a year, you can add 5 more people to your family plan. This also means each member gets their own 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 which makes blocking certain websites a lot easier. You’ll also get activity summaries.
How Often Do You Use Office?
Just like Google has free versions for Gmail, Google Sheets, and Google Docs so does Microsoft. These are limited versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These apps require you to have a Microsoft account and are used within your web browser.
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 is the program formerly known as Office 365. The name changed officially in April of 2020 as a part of Microsoft’s rebranding as an “all-in-one” platform. This bundle includes the latest versions of:
This premium version offers more templates and document design features than the regular versions do. 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.
There are two versions of the Microsoft 365 plan – one for personal use and one for family use.
Microsoft 365 Personal
Microsoft 365 Personal is the 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 a month, and is preset for automatic renewal.
Microsoft 365 Family
Microsoft 365 Family covers up to 6 people. You can store 1TB of data in OneDrive per person, up to 6TB. You also have access to 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 the 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.
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:
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.
Obviously, 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 (namely 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 of the links show the Microsoft 365 Family option details. But there is another option.
The workaround is to download the family version and, before the 30 day period ends, turn off the recurring billing. Then you can switch back to Microsoft 365 Personal. Like many software trials, you will need to provide a credit card first.
Summary & Comparison Table
|Microsoft 365 |
|Microsoft 365 |
|Office Home & Student |
|Number of Profiles||1||2-6||1|
|Number of Devices||5||Unlimited||1|
OneDrive (1 TB storage)
Clipchamp (video editor)
OneDrive (1 TB storage)
Clipchamp (video editor)
(Classic 2021 versions)
|Price||$69.99 (Yearly) or $6.99 (monthly)||$99.99 (Yearly) or $9.99 (monthly)||$149|
|Free Trial||Not directly, see workaround||30 Day||No|
|Subscription||Renews yearly or monthly||Renews yearly or monthly||No|
|Support||24/7 tech support||24/7 tech support||60 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 choice really comes down to which 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.