Considering that we can have music, movies, TV shows, Photoshop — even underwear — via some sort of monthly or yearly subscription, it's about time we can finally rent Microsoft Office 365, too.
In exchange for $100 per year (or $10 per month), you'll be able to install Office 2013 on up to five PCs, Macs or Windows tablets. You'll have access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. Additionally, you'll get an extra 20GB of cloud storage through SkyDrive (on top of the 7GB you already get for free) along with 60 minutes of Skype world calling per month.
You can still buy Office 2013 the old-school way, though don't expect to see any physical media in the software box; you'll just buy a product code and be sent online to download the actual software. The Home & Student version of that is $140 and is limited to one device (and just Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote); Home & Business is $220 (which includes Outlook as well), and Pro — with all of the same apps offered in the subscription — is $400.
Besides being able to install on up to five devices, there are other benefits to the subscription plan: Free upgrades to the latest versions of the Office software are included, so you can buy in at any time without worrying about missing the next version. Better still, since the subscription license covers different types of devices, you don't have to buy a bunch of different versions. (Besides Mac support, Microsoft has said in the past that this Office 365 license would even provide you with not-yet-released editions, including a possible iPad version.)
If you have a family with lots going on, it is likely to be a money saver, even when you factor in the deals you get from home/student pricing.
If you are simply a power user with a lot of different devices, you'll be able to sync Office 365 documents between them with ease. (And you'll, of course, also be able to share documents quickly, thanks to SkyDrive.) It doesn't stop with the documents though: Your settings and preferences sync as well. This means that no matter where you sign into Office 365, you'll have the same experience. This is, once again, a great benefit for those who split their time between one too many devices.
Pricing and cloud support aside, the latest Office itself isn't a radical redesign. Everything feels familiar, with some small tweaks. It appears that Microsoft is attempting to reduce the bloat we occasionally experience when it comes to its software suite. Does it succeed? Well, we'll have to use the software for a bit longer to make a solid judgment call in regards to that.
While the latest version of the software isn't lacking anything from the traditional desktop view — in fact, our initial impression is that it might be the best version of Office we've used so far — we're still waiting for a finger-friendly tablet version of the legendary suite. Though it would be a huge success given the popularity of iPads and other tablets, Microsoft isn't going to rush that out in haste, because the company's developers say they want to get it right.
You can snag a free one-month trial of Office 365 through Office.com and we suggest taking advantage of this deal. Odds are that you'll find it feeling comfortable and familiar — and a little lighter on the checkbook as well.
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First published January 29 2013, 9:50 AM