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Section: Software & Hardware     Tutorial: Microsoft Office: Buying Software Today

How to Buy Microsoft Office or Office 365

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Buying Office software used to be easy: buy your retail box at the local computer store, load the CD, and install the software. Got a new computer? Repeat.

That's not how it's done today, unfortunately. We must either download a product, pay a monthly subscription fee for as long as we want to use the product, or perhaps use a free product.

Let's take a look at current options for using Microsoft Office products.

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In this tutorial we discuss these options and provide useful links and tips. Tutorial sections are listed below.

There are several ways to use Microsoft Office: buy a subscription, purchase the software electronically, use online Office free of charge, or find older versions on DVD.

Microsoft 365 - Monthly Subscription

Previously called Office 365, Microsoft 365 is available as a monthly or annual subscription for home, business, or enterprise.

With a Microsoft 365 subscription, subscribers gets the latest application product releases and updates, access from any device (desktop, tablet, or phone), and 24/7 Microsoft support via chat or phone.

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Active Office 365 subscriptions have automatically become Microsoft 365 subscriptions, though in many cases the name of the subscription plan has changed.

A Microsoft account is required and Internet access is required to install and activate Microsoft 365, and to upgrade to the latest releases of your plan's products and services. However, you don't need to be connected to the Internet to use desktop versions of the apps.

This Microsoft webpage provides links and information about subscription expiration dates, recurring billing, and subscription cancellation. If auto-renew is turned off, it is recommended that the subscription be renewed in subsequent years directly through the Microsoft account rather than via a third party.

There are different sets of offerings for home and business customers.

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Microsoft 365 for Home

Microsoft 365 for home includes Microsoft 365 Personal for a single user, and Microsoft 365 Family for 2-6 people. Each plan includes cloud storage, email, calendar, royalty-free content, technical support via chat or phone, and enhanced security features.

icons of programs and services with Microsoft 365 Home versions

Microsoft 365 for home can be used on a desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android operating systems.

Microsoft 365 for home includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, OneDrive, and Editor. See Microsoft's website for current subscription prices.

Microsoft 365 for Business

This Microsoft.com webpage compares the Microsoft 365 for Business offerings and subscription prices.

Three of the four plans focus on team environments and feature apps and services that enhance collaboration, such as document and calendar sharing. Plans include:

Microsoft 365 Business Basic includes web and mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive, Teams, Exchange, and SharePoint.

Microsoft 365 Business Standard includes everything in Business Basic, adding desktop versions of the apps, plus Access (PC only) and Publisher (PC only).

Microsoft 365 Business Premium offers everything in Business Standard, plus extra security, and Microsoft Intune - a cloud-based service for mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM).

The fourth offering, Microsoft 365 Apps for Business, is designed for non-team environments that need only the office apps. The plan includes desktop and mobile versions, for up to five users, of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access (PC only), and Publisher (PC only).

For large corporations, Microsoft 365 for Enterprise is available. More information can be found here.

One-Time Purchase of Office

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The latest version of Office can be purchased for a one-time fee. Typically, the product can be installed on one PC or Mac, and includes 60 days Microsoft support. After purchasing, a product key (product key card) is provided and a Microsoft account is required to download the software.

As you peruse the Microsoft webpages, keep in mind that if the product name contains 365, it's a subscription. As of this date, the available one-time purchase Office suites are.

Office Home & Student 2021 includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and is licensed for home use (link).

Office Home & Business 2021 offers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, and is licensed for home and commercial use (link).

Office Professional 2021 is licensed for home and commercial use, and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher (PC only) and Access (PC only) (link).

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Though other vendors, such as Amazon.com Services, Costco, and Sam's Club, offer subscription and purchase versions of Office, be careful.

On Amazon, the purchase is often non-returnable and non-refundable, so research this, and read buyer comments. Other vendors may have different return policies.

When the software is purchased from a 3rd party vendor, Microsoft's usual position is that any installation issues (e.g. product not activating) must be resolved by the 3rd party vendor.

What about OneNote? OneNote automatically ships with Windows 10. Since Office 2019 and higher require Windows 10, OneNote no longer has to be included with Office—though some vendors' say their Office software includes OneNote. This Microsoft FAQ has a plethora of information regarding OneNote, Office 2019, and more.

Online Office for Free - Cloud Storage Only

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If you have 24/7 reliable Internet and don't mind storing all your Office files in the Microsoft cloud OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), you can use Office for free. Web-based versions of Office programs are accessed via a browser and a Microsoft account.

The cloud-based Office apps have basic features on tabs such as Home, Insert, and Layout, but few advanced features—e.g. no mail merge. Software applications include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, OneDrive, Calendar, People, Forms, Sway, and Skype.

For more information, see https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/free-office-online-for-the-web. To get started, go that webpage and click "Sign in." Beware of the many links asking you to buy Microsoft 365.

To find saved documents, click Recents at the bottom of the page. PC Magazine has a good tutorial on how to use online Office.

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Buying Older or DVD Versions Online

Older Office versions may be available online, but be careful. Make sure the version you want to buy will run on your Windows version. See our Compatibility Chart for Windows 10, 8, and 7 or our Compatibility Chart for Windows XP and Vista. Some online stores sell an Office suite and show the retail box, but don't mention that all you receive is an email with a product key.

There are still a few vendors selling Office 2010 on DVD, such as this one on Amazon. Many folks have good luck, but you might receive an Academic version or a product that won't validate as all available installs had been used.

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Read comments and questions, and don't hope for more than one install. Make sure you can return the product and know your return window. Install early so if there are problems, you have time to return the product. Some install problems are caused by a conflict with a trial version of Office on the PC that was never uninstalled, so be aware.

Also, installing a later version of Office over an earlier version with programs products NOT in the new version (e.g. Outlook) can be hazardous. If not installed properly, the install will wipe out Outlook and other Office products not included in the new version. Read our tutorial How to Install Office 2010 on a Computer with an Older Version Already Installed first!

Disclaimer: We do our best to provide accurate, up-to-date information for our website visitors. However, we will not be held responsible for inadvertent errors, nor should any visitor infer that we are providing technical advice or guarantees. In addition, Keynote Support does not respond to technical questions or provide technical assistance. If you have questions about any information discussed in this article, use the appropriate Microsoft Forum.

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