The case for renting Office 2013 instead of buying it

Office 365 may seem more expensive at first, but it's actually cheaper in most circumstances -- and offers more functionality

Back in the day, if you wanted Office, you bought it. You picked an edition and were good to go. But Microsoft now has a bunch of Office 2013 one-time-license ("boxed") editions and an option to subscribe annually to Office, aka Office 365. At first glance, the subscription edition of Office appears too expensive: $100 per year versus a one-time $220 charge. After 25 months, the subscription costs you more.

Except when it doesn't -- Office 365 can be installed on up to five PCs and/or Macs tied to the same Microsoft account. If you have two computers, it takes 50 months before the subscription option costs more than the traditional one-time Office 2013 license. That's a bargain for those who keep current with Microsoft Office, which usually gets a new version every three years. In other words, if you have two computers, you'd spend $880 over four years with one-time Office 2013 licenses (assuming you upgrade in the third year to Office 2016) versus $400 for the same interim with an Office 365 subscription. Also, the more computers you use with your Office 365 subscription, the greater the savings.

[ Read InfoWorld's review of Office 2013, and learn whether Office Web Apps' new iPad support is good enough. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

There is one caveat: Office 365 uses the same cloud-based storage for all your PCs, so files stored in SkyDrive for the non-enterprise versions are visible to all users sharing that subscription. Parents who want to keep their files unavailable to their kids could get separate subscriptions or buy a student version of the one-time-license Office 2013 edition for the children.

Even if you need Office on only one computer, the Office 365 subscription has major advantages that outweigh its higher cost in that scenario -- and bonuses for users who install it on multiple computers:

  • Office 365 is automatically updated, including for new full versions. Microsoft will keep Office 2013 updated periodically to fix flaws, but when the next version of Office comes around, you'll need to buy it. In contrast, Office 365 keeps you current at all times.
  • You can access Office 365 via the Web on any Internet-connected PC or Mac, including computers other than your own -- a great feature when your system is in for repair or you're called unexpectedly to do work when visiting family or traveling sans PC. On a Windows 7 or 8 PC, your Office session and preferences are synced across all your PCs.
  • Office 365 includes a 20GB SkyDrive account and 60 minutes of Skype calling to landline and mobile phones in several dozen countries -- great for both travelers and students.
  • Office 365 for Small Business (not yet shipping) will provide videoconferencing capabilities, Exchange email accounts, and collaboration space via SharePoint, all managed via a Web portal. The ProPlus and Enterprise editions (also not yet shipping) add even more management and collaboration capabilities.
Comparing Office editions
EditionOffice 365 CostOffice 2013 CostSoftware
Home & StudentNA$140,

1 computer

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
University$80/4 years,

2 computers

NAWord, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access
Home & BusinessNA$220,

1 computer

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook
Professional$99/year,

5 computers

$400,

1 computer

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher,* Access*
 *not available on Macs   

It's true that Office 2013, as good as it is, doesn't offer new features that will transform your business; the case for moving from a one-time license of Office 2010 to a one-time license of Office 2013 is take-it-or-leave-it. But the Office 365 subscription option makes it so much easier to use Office across multiple computers and locations, as well as tap into Microsoft's collaboration capabilities. Those can be transformative, especially in today's "work anywhere, work everywhere" reality.

Sometimes, it is better to rent than to own. That certainly applies to Office 365.

This story, "The case for renting Office 2013 instead of buying it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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