Sep. 17, 2012 at 7:08 PM ET
Microsoft has added some new ways of accessing its latest Office suite of applications and services: you can now subscribe on a month-to-month basis rather than buying the product outright. For many, this may be a very practical and money-saving option.
There are two subscription tiers: Home Premium ($8.33 per month, or $100 per year) and Small Business Premium ($12.50 per month, or $150 per year).
Home Premium allows for up to five users to use an Office suite on any device or platform, and even through a Web browser. (The idea is that this would also cover a current subscriber for yet-to-be-announced editions, such as a new iPad app.) Each user would get his or her own personalized settings and storage, and the account would include some freebies on other Microsoft services: 20 extra gigabytes of space (total) on SkyDrive and an hour of world calling on Skype.
Small Business Premium allows for up to 10 people, with each user allowed to activate Office on multiple devices or PCs. There's 25GB of Outlook mailbox space included, as well as some extra for miscellaneous file storage. And screen-sharing, videoconferencing and website hosting are also included.
Both include "on demand" access that lets you temporarily log into your Office account from any PC, and both will have 30-day free trials in case users want to test the water before diving in.
At $100 or $150 per year, it's potentially a great deal for companies that have historically had to purchase several licenses to the Office software every few years. Extending subscriptions to families with lots of members (and all kinds of devices) is also good news, because a single license could theoretically cover you on PC, Mac, tablets and phones. However, users or families with fewer devices or a slower upgrade schedule may still find that buying once will still be the best option.
The "Premium" nomenclature indicates that "Basic" or "Pro" options (like those for versions of Windows itself) could be on their way, their specifics perhaps to be determined from the usage patterns and subscription rates of the existing ones. A few more details can be found at the blog post describing the new subscriptions, or at the new Office website itself.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.