For the first time Microsoft is tempting Office users to rent, not own, software that for decades they've bought as a standalone program. It's not a foreign proposition. We pay annual subscription fees for our anti-virus software. Last April, Adobe rolled out its Creative Cloud subscription package for renting Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver.
Now Microsoft has hopped on the rental bandwagon and hopes you will start forking over a yearly subscription fee. For Microsoft that beats someone buying Office 2010 and never coughing up more money for a newer version. It's all about creating an annuity.
So, should you buy or should you rent? For individuals, there is no one answer. Let's take a closer look at your options and consider the pros and cons. But first a run-down of what your Office options are.
Originally designed for businesses, Office 365 allows you to always have the latest version of Office for a yearly subscription fee of $100. You can still buy a boxed version of Office 2013 at your local computer shop with prices starting at $140 for Office 2013 Home and Student. But Microsoft is pushing the $100 per year option for Office 365.
With Office 365 Home and Business you get access to most apps from the Office suite including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher. Office 2013 Home and Student, by comparison offers you just Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for $140. To get the boxed version of Outlook 2013 you need to fork over another $80 for Office 2013 Home and Business.
For those with multiple PCs
The Office 365 subscription gets harder to resist the more PCs you have. For those with two PCs, Office 365 will cost you $50 per PC, compared to paying $280 for the traditional desktop licenses needed for two PCs. When you get to $20 per PC (per year) for five PCs, compared to $700 to install Office Home and Student on five PCs, the subscription model becomes a no-brainer.
Five PC installations for $100 a year is a pretty good deal. On top of that, you also get a few freebies including 60 minutes of international Skype calling per month and an extra 20GB of SkyDrive storage.
If you purchase Office 2013, you only get a single installation for $140. You also get an extra 5GB of SkyDrive storage.
You want Web access to Office via Office on Demand
As if installing Office on five PCs wasn't enough, with Office 365 you can use a neat new feature called Office on Demand that quickly downloads a virtualized version of select Office apps to a PC that isn't yours. This can be a friend's PC, a computer at an Internet cafe, or a public PC terminal.
Office on Demand lets you run several Office apps including Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access, and Publisher. Once you're done with the Office program it stops working and doesn't count against your Office installs.
The downside to Office on Demand is that it only works for Windows PCs. You can't use Office on Demand on a Mac, Linux box, Chromebook, or a mobile device. Most of these devices can use Microsoft's Office Web apps in a pinch, Mobile devices aren't supported, but in a pinch there's a workaround for Android and iOS users running the mobile version of Chrome.
When my colleague Yardena Arar tried out the Office on Demand feature she noticed a few snags when it came to usability. For one, she noted a slight delay in saving documents. Unfortunately the wow-factor of accessing Office on Demand is diminished when you learn it has to be a on a Windows PC.
Office 2013 was tweaked to work better with touchscreens, but unfortunately only the Windows 8 variety. That means our Android and iPads will have to sit on the sidelines until Microsoft allows access to Office on Demand from those devices.