Office 365: should you subscribe?

We’ve compared Office 365 to freely available alternatives as well as to its own existing productivity suite.

Now comes the time for the verdict: should your family or business make the switch to Office 365?

Office for Home

Microsoft needs to face a brutal reality: as far as most home users are concerned, there are far fewer reasons to stick with the desktop version of Office than ever before.

With money tight, it’s tough to justify spending £8 per month on a productivity suite when – as this feature has clearly shown – there are so many high-quality alternatives available for little or nothing.

This isn’t to say you won’t make sacrifices by dumping the Office suite. It could be power and features, if you opt for an online-only alternative; it could be usability, if you head down the open-source route of OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

However, many people will be willing to make these concessions if they’ll save an extra £96 (or £80, if you bite the bullet and pay for it all at once) every year in the process.

In our view, Microsoft needs to re-assess the pricing strategy of Office for home users. It could be bundling with ISP services, or making Office 365 free for the lifetime of Windows 8 computers, or simply reducing the monthly price to less than £5. If Microsoft wants the next generation of children to grow up with Office on every machine they use, something needs to happen.

In the meantime, you have the luxury of choice, particularly since almost all the Office alternatives are free. Take a look at our summary below in each of the key areas and make your own decision. The beauty is you don’t have to commit: if you don’t like Office 365, Google Drive or iWork, you can always move on to the next option.

Office for business

Many businesses have moved away from Office and been happy with their choice: whichever switch you make, there are clear savings to be made by removing the cost of Office from your books. In the main, however, most businesses we deal with seem to have stronger reasons to stick with Office, and in particular to shift to the rental model offered by Office 365.

As can be seen from the comparisons in the preceding pages, this isn’t a simple matter of inertia. Office has evolved from a bunch of programs that work together into something that offers tangible benefits to businesses. The ribbon interface has its detractors, but how many companies would go back to Office 2003 – even if LibreOffice and OpenOffice offer a compelling facsimile?

The free online alternative – whether Google Drive or Office Online – doesn’t yet seem viable. These are excellent complementary services (it’s no coincidence that we default to Google Drive when working on collaborative documents), but the quality of the documents they produce, and the fact that you’re reliant on an internet connection, means we can’t recommend them as a main choice.

Office remains the best choice for business, and Office 365 wins because it’s much more than a subscription version of Office 2013. Of course, it can be just that if you want: an Office 365 ProPlus subscription doesn’t include extra services such as SharePoint, Lync or Exchange. Similarly, you can buy a licence for Office 2013 in the usual way. The choice is yours, but Office 365 offers so much more.

Return to the main Office 365 feature here.

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