After the hubbub surrounding the release of Windows 8 had died down, Microsoft had another software staple to unleash – the latest version of Office. But this time things are a little different from previous years. There’s not only the choice between Home and Professional to make, but also the Office 365 and Office 2013 variants; but what is the difference?
Put simply, the difference between the two different versions of the office suite is that one is owned outright while the other is rented. This is the arrival of software as a service that Microsoft has been building up to for so many years.
While there are many similarities between the 2013 and 365 strands of the Office family, it is Office 2013 that should be regarded as the natural successor to Office 2010. This is software in the traditional sense. You buy it for a one-time fee, install it, own it; it’s yours.
As with most software, you are entitled to install Office 2013 on one computer (unless you buy more than one copy, that is) and as has been the case in the past, there are several versions available which include different Office programs.
Clearly anticipating confusion – and it’s hardly surprising really – the Office web site includes not only a breakdown of what each of the different editions of Office 2013 includes, but also a FAQ which explains, among other things, the difference between 365 and 2013.
There is the usual raft of suite versions to choose from starting with Office Home and Student 2013. For $139.99 this includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, but if you also want to be able to use Outlook you must look to Office Home & Business 2013 for $219.99.
Top of the range is Office Professional 2013 which, for $399.99, also includes Publisher and Access. Suite components can also be bought as individual apps for $109.99, which the exception of OneNote which costs $69.99.
Office is a piece of software that is often criticized for the small number of changes between versions. As is to be expected, the suite boasts the Modern look of Windows 8 and features touch screen support. But there are other new options as well.
There is a strong focus on online work, with all areas of Office including collaboration, sharing or cloud options – files can be saved directly to SkyDrive, for instance. Many of the changes are quite cosmetic, with Word gaining a new reading mode and Outlook benefiting from a much cleaner look that ever before. Social networking integration is also included, as one might expect.
Excel users can take advantage of improved pivot tables as well as suggestions for charts that are best suited to different types of data. There are also time-saving touches such as Flash Fill which aims to speed up data entry by noticing lists and patterns in the data you enter and autofilling for you.
In many respects, the big news for Office is Office 365 – this is where the big changes are to be found. Rather than buying software to keep, here you pay a monthly or annual subscription; essentially renting the software.
But this is far from being the only difference. While Office 2013 can only be installed on one computer, Office 365 can be used on up to five PCs (and Macs) for one price. There are other versions available for businesses - Office 365 Small Business Premium, Office 365 Enterprise and Office 365 ProPlus.
If you like this approach to software, Office 365 can be yours for $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. Whether you are working with one PC or five, you pay the same price, so this is great option for households with several computers.
There’s a strong online focus with Office 365 and a subscription also includes 20GB of SkyDrive storage and, perhaps unsurprisingly following Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, 60 minutes of Skype calls per month.
Try Before You Buy
Anyone who was interested in the regular desktop version of Office had the opportunity to try out the Office 2013 Consumer Preview, but this is no longer available. However, it is possible to try out Office 365 completely free of charge for a month so you can see how like it. While the idea of online software is nothing particularly new, moving to an online version of Office is something of major transition that you might want to test drive before committing to.
Despite the fact the trial is free, you have to provide payment details just in case you decide to keep using it – pop a reminder in the calendar to avoid getting charged if you are just trying it out for the curiosity’s sake.
Benefits and Drawbacks
If there is one thing to be said in favor of Office 365 it is that it has the potential to save you a great deal of money. Were you to buy the cheapest version of Office 2013 for two computers, it would cost you $278.98 – almost three times the price of opting for Office 365.
The added extras such as the SkyDrive integration are nice touches and are likely to prove enticing for businesses who might use it for collaborative purposes.
While we can expect to see updates released for Office 2013, new features and updates are going to be released for Office 365 more frequently, and many are likely to be exclusives.
For those occasions when you find that you are working on a computer other than one of the five you have installed Office 365 on, you can make use of Office on Demand. This feature is a nice touch which amounts to being a temporary Office installation that can be used anywhere.
If you are working in an internet café and want to make use of your purchased software you can do so by streaming it to the computer you are using. Streaming in this way can be a little slow – much like the installation of Office 365 on the whole.
It’s interesting to note that it is not possible to opt to subscribe to a single application. You might only be interested in Word, but you can’t rent this on its own. This means that some users may feel as though they are paying more than necessary for software they are not using fully.
But whichever route you decide to go, if you make the jump to one of the latest incarnations of Office, you will have the new UI to work with, complete with inexplicably capitalized menu options.
What do you think of the redesigned Office interface and the feel of the suite in general?
Does the idea of renting software sit comfortably with you, or do you view it more cynically? Let us know your opinion.