Should I buy Office 365 or the standard one-time purchase of Microsoft Office?

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Office 365 is the subscription version of Office. This normally means that you buy a licence for a year at a time, although you can choose to pay monthly. You automatically purchase the current version of Office when you first subscribe and then you can choose to upgrade to the latest version (or not) whenever it is released. Otherwise in practical terms it is no different from the standard one-time Office. So basically you can just think of it as an alternative way of paying for Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access, or whichever applications you normally use.

microsoft word 2013 logo microsoft excel 2013 logo microsoft outlook 2013 logo microsoft powerpoint 2013 logo microsoft access 2013 logo

Note that both 365 and one-time purchase are sold in various "plans", which contain assorted combinations of the Office applications and allow use for different purposes. Essentially before you think about whether you want 365 or one-time, you need to decide which applications you want to be able to use (for example some plans do not include Access), and the purpose for which you want them (e.g. the student version is cheaper). Confusingly, the combinations available are not the same for 365 and one-time purchase, and neither is the naming!

But if you are a standard, desktop user of Microsoft Office wanting to upgrade or purchase Office for a new P.C. then you can base your decision on the price you can find for 365 vs one-time in whichever plan you need and factor this against the expected life of your device, perhaps, as well as cash flow. Read on to make things more complicated if you want to.

Below is a summary table using actual prices and typical version requirements. Please see bottom of this page for a more detailed table.

Description Applications wanted Cost for 4 years on Office 365 Cost of one-time purchase Office (per PC)
Home use*, single user Word, Excel, Outlook £171.60 £99.00
Home use*, multiple users (max 5) Word, Excel, Outlook £247.96 £99.00
Home use*, single user Word, Excel, Outlook, Access £171.60 £114.00
Home use*, multiple users (max 5) Word, Excel, Outlook, Access £247.96 £114.00
Business use (max 300 users) Word, Excel, Outlook £383.04 per user £99.00
Business use (unlimited users) Word, Excel, Outlook, Access £552.96 per user £114.00
Student - with proof Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint £48.95 £99.00
Student - with proof Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Access £48.95 £114.00

*Business use not permitted

All prices include VAT. Prices correct as at January 2017. The table above is simply a guide, using the best prices found from reputable suppliers.

office 365 logo

Firstly, you could consider whether you need to buy Office at all. Did you know about Office Online, which is the free version of Office that you can use in your web browser? You can read more about it here. You can't use Access this way, and the versions are not the full versions, but they may be sufficient for you.

Another consideration might be the value you place on always having the most up-to-date release version of Office - e.g. Office 2016. For some people this is a real bonus of 365 since, if you always want to have the latest version, you would otherwise have to purchase Office all over again. Microsoft are keen to emphasise this advantage, but it isn't all good...

office 2016

In the business world it is often not a good thing to have users upgrading to the latest version spontaneously. This is particularly true with users of Access where you will find that many systems do not work when shared across a pool of users with difference versions of Office - e.g. a mixture of Office 2013 and Office 2016. An automatic upgrade is also unwelcome if you are someone providing IT support as it is often helpful to be able to keep your own installation of Office at the same version as your clients'. Unfortunately Microsoft are very keen on you making the most of your subscription and upgrading your Office 365 as soon as possible, so they provide an annoying and unwanted bar across the top of every application which you have either to ignore or to close every time you open something if you don't want to upgrade. This can be particularly irritating when looking at something that would normally fit the height of your screen but is pushed off the bottom by the extra strip added at the top.

office 365 upgrade

If you do decide to purchase Office 365, do think about whether you want it to auto-renew or not. Naturally, Microsoft will encourage you to switch this option on so that they take the money automatically when your subscription is about to expire. Our own experience is that it is much cheaper to shop around and purchase a new Office 365 subscription from elsewhere. Note that there is no problem applying a fresh purchase of Office 365 to your existing subscription.

There are more factors to consider, coming soon (watch this space by bookmarking this page!).

Meanwhile, in summary, if you are a small business then the likelihood is that your decision will come down to price and price alone. If you are a larger company then one-time purchase is perhaps more likely to be your route.

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Detailed table showing a variety of typical version requirements
Description Applications wanted Microsoft 365 name Other applications provided Number of users allowed per licence Number of devices allowed per user Price Duration for this price (months) Cost for 4 years Microsoft one-time name Other applcations provided Number of users allowed per licence** Number of devices allowed per user Price (for PC version) Duration for this price
Home use*, single user Word, Excel, Outlook Office 365 Personal PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access 1 1 PC/Mac, 1 tablet, 1 phone £42.90 12 £171.60 Office Home & Business 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote 1 1 PC/Mac £99.00 Unlimited
Home use*, multiple users Word, Excel, Outlook Office 365 Home PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access 5 1 PC/Mac, 1 tablet, 1 phone £61.99 12 £247.96 Office Home & Business 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote 1 1 PC/Mac £99.00 Unlimited
Home use*, single user Word, Excel, Outlook, Access Office 365 Personal PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 1 1 PC/Mac, 1 tablet, 1 phone £42.90 12 £171.60 Office Professional 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 1 1 PC/Mac £114.00 Unlimited
Home use*, multiple users Word, Excel, Outlook, Access Office 365 Home PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 5 1 PC/Mac, 1 tablet, 1 phone £61.99 12 £247.96 Office Professional 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 1 1 PC/Mac £114.00 Unlimited
Business use Word, Excel, Outlook Office 365 Business PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 300 5 PC/Macs, 5 tablets, 5 phones £7.98 per user 1 £383.04 per user Office Home & Business 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote 1 1 PC/Mac £99.00 Unlimited
Business use Word, Excel, Outlook, Access Office 365 ProPlus PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Skype for business Unlimited 5 PC/Macs, 5 tablets, 5 phones £11.52 per user 1 £552.96 per user Office Professional 2016 PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher 1 1 PC/Mac £114.00 Unlimited
Student - with proof Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint Office 365 University OneNote, Publisher, Access 1 2 PC/Mac/tablets, 2 phones £48.95 48 £48.95 Office Home & Business 2016 OneNote 1 1 PC/Mac £99.00 Unlimited
Student - with proof Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Access Office 365 University OneNote, Publisher 1 2 PC/Mac/tablets, 2 phones £48.95 48 £48.95 Office Professional 2016 OneNote, Publisher 1 1 PC/Mac £114.00 Unlimited

*Business use not permitted

**counting multiple users on the same PC/Mac as 1 user

All prices include VAT. Prices correct as at January 2017. The table above is simply a guide, using the best prices found from reputable suppliers.

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Software-Matters is a UK software development team based in Gillingham, Dorset, and close to the counties of Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Nearby cities include Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole, Salisbury, Bristol and Bath.

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