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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 15 Issue 1
January 2021
You Don't Need a Microsoft Office Subscription to Get Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Outlook, You Can Just Buy Office

Quick summary
In recent years many software companies have changed how they sell their products, moving from one-time purchases to subscriptions. Some companies offer both, but it’s not always easy to find the non-subscription option.
In particular, many people have the misconception that Microsoft Office is now only available as a subscription. In fact, it is entirely your choice whether you buy an ongoing subscription or a one-time purchase. You can also switch between those options later.
Note that for the purposes of this discussion, my focus is on individual computer users who want to use the current version of Office. If you work for a large organization, they may have arranged with Microsoft to provide you with a subscription to the Office software on your computer at no cost to you.
Getting started with Microsoft Office
If you don’t already have a Microsoft account, you will have to create one, which you can do for free. After buying a one-time purchase or a subscription, you would download the software and install it on your computer.
Starting with Office 2013, Microsoft no longer offered the Office software on CD or DVD. If you find a retail package for Office 2013 or later, it will contain a card with information on how to download the software, but no disk.
You may also find older versions of Office for sale on disk (for example, on eBay or Amazon) that might still work on your computer, but they may no longer be supported. For example, Extended Support (security updates) for Office 2013 will end on April 11, 2023, and Office 2016 support ends on October 14, 2025.
Different levels of Microsoft Office
A one-time purchase of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2019 for Windows or Macintosh includes the Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote programs for your computer.
A one-time purchase of Microsoft Office Home & Business 2019 includes all of those programs plus Outlook, which is a very popular program for your computer that is primarily known for its email and address book functionality, but it also includes calendars, to-do lists, and more.
Originally called “Office 365,” the Microsoft Office subscription choice is now called “Microsoft 365” and includes the same software for your computer that you get with a one-time purchase, plus many additional features.
Here is a brief overview of some of the differences between the two choices. For more details, see the links under “Where to go from here,” below.
Buying Microsoft Office as a one-time purchase
  • You make a simple, one-time purchase of a particular version, which is currently Office 2019.
  • You can use that version for as long as you want with no additional costs.
  • You can download and install any updates to that version for free for as long as Microsoft supports it, which in the past has typically been 10 years.
  • When Microsoft releases a future version of Office, if you want to use it you will have to purchase it.
  • Support from Microsoft is included for only a limited amount of time after your purchase.
Buying Microsoft Office as a subscription
There are 3 types of subscriptions:
  • Free: cloud apps, online documents stored in OneDrive only, limited functionality
  • Personal: 1 user, multiple computers
  • Family: multiple users, multiple computers for each person; formerly called “Home”
As long as your subscription is active:
  • You will have access to the latest version of Office, including updates to your current version and upgrades to future versions, assuming they’re compatible with your computer.
  • You will have ongoing support from Microsoft if you need it.
  • Over time you will probably spend more with a subscription than with a one-time purchase.
  • You can cancel your monthly or annual subscription anytime. If you cancel within 30 days of your purchase or renewal, you will get a refund. Otherwise, Microsoft does not give partial-period refunds (unless your local laws require them), so your subscription will continue until the end of the period you’ve paid for.
Note that paying annually for a subscription will cost less per year than paying monthly.
Switching from a Microsoft Office subscription to a one-time purchase
If you decide to switch (or “downgrade”) from an Office subscription to Office as a one-time purchase, here’s a summary of the process:
  • Make a one-time purchase of Office using the same Microsoft account as your subscription.
  • Open one of your programs (e.g., Word).
  • Go to File->Account->Change License
  • Change its license from your subscription to your newly-purchased Office.
  • If your subscription’s “recurring billing” (auto-renew) option is on, I recommend that you turn that off as well.
You can also switch from a one-time purchase to a subscription, switch between subscription levels, or switch a subscription between monthly and annual billing.
Microsoft Office Mobile Apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android
A version of Microsoft Office is also available for your smartphone or tablet. You can download it from the Apple App Store for iOS and from the Google Play Store for Android.
You can get a single, integrated “Microsoft Office” app, or the separate Word, Excel, etc. apps that you need.
You can either get them for free with limited features, or as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription with full functionality. The mobile apps are not available as one-time purchases. You can save your documents on your mobile device itself, and you also have various cloud storage choices, including OneDrive and DropBox.
Multiple meanings of Outlook
Note that the term “Microsoft Outlook” can be confusing.
  • The Microsoft Outlook software runs on your computer as part of the Home & Business package, or you can also purchase it by itself.
  • The completely separate, cloud-based Microsoft Outlook website -- http://outlook.com or http://outlook.live.com -- requires no Microsoft software on your computer, only a web browser and a Microsoft account. This website includes lots of features, including email, contacts, calendars, to-do lists, OneDrive (online document storage similar to DropBox), online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Skype, and more.
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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