Microsoft Office What? A Guide to the Office Suite Ecosystem

Everyone knows what Microsoft Office is, right? Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote — simple.

Well, that’s sort of true. But if you’ve ever heard of Office Online, Office Mobile, Office 2016, or Office 365, you know that it’s a very simplistic view of what is a complex and multifaceted ecosystem of apps and programs.

A decade ago it was much simpler to explain what Office involved. But with the proliferation of smartphones, web apps, and software subscriptions, the number of options available to users has spiraled. Even to a seasoned Office user, it’s confusing.

If you find it hard to make an informed choice about which package is best for you, don’t worry. In this article, I’m going to walk you through the all various options.

Office 2016

Office 2016 is the traditional version of the productivity suite. Most of you have used its predecessors in the past, whether at home, work, or school.

Microsoft offers the package in three versions: Office Home and Student 2016, Office Home and Business 2016, and Office Professional 2016. The three have some similarities, but also some important differences.

The Similarities

All three can only be installed on one PC or Mac, they are all one-time purchases, none of them offer tablet/smartphone versions, they don’t include Microsoft Support (live text chat or phone), and they don’t offer any extra perks like OneDrive storage or Skype minutes.

Perhaps most importantly, none of them offer free upgrades to future versions of Office. If you buy Office 2016 now, you’ll still be stuck on Office 2016 until you shell out another one-time fee for a new version.

Given the price points and the lack of extra features, it’s quite apparent Microsoft is trying to move users away from these products. Even finding the information on the Office website is becoming increasingly difficult.

The Differences

The main differences are the price points and the software included in each package.

office 2016 price

The most basic version (Office Home and Student) ships with Word 2016, Excel 2016, PowerPoint 2016, and OneNote 2016. It’ll set you back $119.99 and can only be used on home computers.

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The second tier (Office Home and Business) adds Outlook for desktop. The different versions of Outlook are confusing in themselves, but they’re beyond the scope of this article. Luckily, we’ve covered them in detail elsewhere on the site. It costs $289.99 and can be used on home and office machines.

The most expensive package (Office Professional 2016) includes Access 2016 and Publisher 2016, as well as Outlook and the four basic apps. Like Office Home and Business, you can also use it on home and office PCs, but you’ll need to shell out an eye-watering $499.99 to buy it. Mac users do not have access to this package.

Office 365

Most people consider Office 365 to be the future of the Office suite. The price points are much more competitive than the standalone Office 2016 suite, and Microsoft throws some goodies to sweeten the deal further.

Home Users

Home users have two choices: Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal.

Both subscriptions include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook. If you’re a PC user, you’ll also get Access and Publisher.

Aside from the extra software, the best part of a 365 subscription is the automatic updates. Microsoft is constantly rolling out mini-updates to add functionality and remove bugs, and anytime there is a major new release, you’ll be the first to get it. The next major Office update is scheduled for 2019.

The biggest difference between the two products is the number of licenses you’ll be given. Office 365 Personal only includes one license and can only be installed on one PC/Mac and one smartphone/tablet.

Office 365 Home increases this number to five. You can share those five installs between other people in your family. It means one subscription should be enough to give everyone in your household a copy of the software.

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Lastly, both packages give you (and anyone you share your subscription with) 1 TB of OneDrive storage and 60 minutes of worldwide Skype calls every month.

Office 365 Personal costs $59.99 per year (or $5.99 per month). Office 365 Home is $79.99 per year (or $7.99 per month).

Remember: if you’re a student, you can get Office 365 Education for free through your school.

Business Users

You can only use Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal on home computers. If you want to run the software in a business, you’ll need a different package.

You have three options: Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business, and Office 365 Business Premium.

The cheapest package, Office 365 Business Essentials, only gives you access to the online versions of Office, as well as a 50 GB Exchange Online email inbox and video conferencing. It costs $5 per user, per month.

office business prices

Office 365 Business lets you install the full Office apps on your computer, but it does not include Exchange Online or Skype minutes. It costs $8.25 per user, per month.

Office 365 Business Premium is the elite offering. You get all the apps, 50 GB of email, and Skype HD video conferencing. It’s $12.50 per user, per month.

Office Online

Office Online (previously known as Office Web Apps) is a suite of lightweight, browser-based versions of the Office suite.

The personal edition of Office Online is entirely free to use, you just need a Microsoft Account. Available apps include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Sway, Mail, People, Calendar, OneDrive, and Users with a 365 subscription can easily switch between the two interfaces.

office online apps

The holy trinity of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint do have some important functionality like PDF rendering and real-time collaboration, but they are not the full-featured versions. For example, Word is lacking some key features for power users:

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  • The References and Mailings ribbons are missing.
  • It cannot adjust a document’s orientation.
  • It doesn’t support section breaks.
  • The Outline, Draft, Web Layout, and Full Screen Reading views are unavailable.
  • It doesn’t support the Navigation pane, side-by-side viewing, or split windows.

Office Mobile Apps

Amazingly, Office Mobile Apps have been around in some form since 1996. They started life as “Pocket Office” and supported the Windows CE 1.0 operating system.

The four main apps are Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but products such as Sway, Skype for Business, and SharePoint Newsfeed are all available for download.

The apps are free to use for home users who have a screen size smaller than 10.1 inches, but they offer reduced functionality. The only way to a) get full functionality and/or b) use the apps on a screen larger than 10.1 inches, is to subscribe to Office 365.

office apps android

A subscription will add the ability to track and review changes, apply custom colors to text, insert section and page breaks, personalize Pivot Tablets styles and layouts, insert and edit WordArt, and save ink annotations from slideshows, as well as a whole lot more. For the complete list of features, check the Microsoft Office website.

Which Version Do You Use?

I hope you now have a clearer understanding of the four main subdivisions of the Office suite: Office 2016, Office 365, Office Online, and Office Mobile Apps. There is no easy way to say which Office suite is right for you — you need to establish which apps are most important to you, what environment you’ll be working in, and what device you’ll be using.

I’d love to hear about which product you’ve chosen and why. Perhaps you’ll help a fellow reader establish which one they should buy.

As always, you can get in touch with your thoughts and opinions via the comments box below.

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