In a world where you can get high-quality offline and cloud-based office suites for free, Microsoft Office may look increasingly quaint and expensive. So far, the company's answer has been to bind their suite and their cloud storage together, at bargain prices. But is it enough to overcome the competition's lack of a price tag?
You'll always have the latest version of Office: You may prefer to own your office suite instead of subscribing to it, but one of the advantages of Office 365 is that you'll automatically get security patches, new features, and whole new versions of Office, as soon as they're available. You can even sign up for the "Insider" program to get beta access to what's coming next, if you can't wait. Out-of-date software is often how malware gets onto your device, so automatic updates go a long way toward protecting the average user.
If you've become accustomed to web browser-based productivity like the Google Docs Suite, then you already don't have to worry about features or versions. But it's definitely a factor if you're working with sensitive material that needs to stay off the cloud.
And if you need to put such materials online, OneDrive (the company's cloud storage service integrated into Office) has built-in tools to password-protect individual files and to create shareable links to them that expire after a specified amount of time. Plus, if something happens to these files on OneDrive, the service keeps 30 days of backups that you can select from to restore lost or corrupted data.
Works well both online and offline: Microsoft's main competitor is arguably Google Docs, but using Docs offline is awkward. You first have to get online to set it to offline mode, so if you want to work offline because you're having trouble connecting, you might be out of luck altogether. Office 365 works with your local files right away, while still syncing them in the cloud.
Setting up files for sharing is also straightforward. There's a Share button in the top right, and you click on it to create a OneDrive folder on your PC, where you can drop files that will automatically get synced in the cloud. If you're sharing the file with someone who's also using Office 365, this setup can let you both edit the file's contents in real time.
Tablet restrictions don't serve the user: There are two major differences between 365 Home and 365 Personal. For one, Home gets you 5TB of OneDrive cloud storage, while Personal gets 1TB. The other is the devices that you're allowed to use with the account. Personal gets you an "Optimized Office experience on 1 tablet and 1 phone," while Home provides an "Optimized Office experience on 5 tablets and 5 phones."
This means that 365 Personal subscribers must choose between a Surface, an iPad, or an Android tablet, and a family of four using 365 Home won't have very much wiggle room either. For reference, Microsoft sold about 3 million Surfaces in all of 2017, according to IDC. Apple sold 43.7 million iPads. So if users are forced to choose, it appears that Microsoft would statistically lose at its own game.
The price difference of $20 a year between 365 Personal and 365 Home works out to just $1.67 more a month, but the principal of it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. That's because you can get Google Docs or LibreOffice on whatever compatible devices you have available, without ever opening your wallet or even downloading anything other than a web browser. Office 365 is about a 4GB download, which can take time (though you can access a streamlined web browser version of Office via office.com), and you have to fork over your payment info for the trial.
Be aware that the free trial defaults to a $99 charge at the end: If you sign up for the free trial of Office 365, it will give you the Home version that has a 5-user license and an MSRP of $100 a year. There's no option to do a trial for the less expensive Personal version. After the trial's 30 days have elapsed, you'll automatically be charged this amount unless you go through the cancellation process first. If you don't need a multi-user license, Microsoft is currently running a promotion for Office 365 Personal at $60 a year, which is a pretty substantial difference.
OneDrive's terabytes of storage are actually a good value in their own right, and that's before you factor in the Office 365 subscription. But if you already have cloud storage elsewhere, and you're happy with it, the value proposition gets murkier; in that case, most people are probably better off with Google Docs, or LibreOffice if you want to work strictly offline.