For the past several months, I’ve been using a pre-release version of Office 365 Home Premium, Microsoft’s new cloud service for consumers. Today, the product is available for trial and purchase in final form, and I can report that Office 365 Home Premium represents an amazing value, especially for families, thanks to Microsoft’s newly friendly licensing terms.
Folks, Office 365 Home Premium is pretty much a no-brainer for any family with multiple PCs. But let’s talk money right up front so you can see how this works.
In the past, a family’s best option was most likely Office Home & Student, which in previous versions provide three licenses for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for about $150. That uses what’s called a perpetual license, meaning you buy it once and use it as long as you want. Most Office customers tend to skip Office versions, so you might use this product for up to 5-6 years, the amount of time between, say, Office 2007 and Office 2013.
Office 365 costs $99.99 a year. So this product will of course cost a lot more than Office Home & Student over 5-6 years. But you also get more. It includes the equivalent of Office Professional 2013, with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but also Outlook, Publisher, and Access. That product costs $400, so a family of 5 would pay $2000 to use five of these installs over five years.
Too much? Perhaps it's more reasonable to assume one copy of Home & Student for the kids, at $140 a pop (now one license each, that’s how they get you), plus one or two copies of Professional at $400 each. Suddenly, the math starts to make sense: Two copies of Office Home & Student plus one copy of Office Professional would cost $680. That’s about seven full years of Office 365 Home Premium usage.
(On a related note, while you can still get Office preinstalled on new PCs, most PCs will utilize an Office 365 Home Premium trial now, instead of the old Office Starter product, which was discontinued. So while some may choose to pay extra to get a single copy of Office for just that PC, most, I think, will just use Office 365 Home Premium instead.)
But wait, there’s more. Office 365 Home Premium comes with many, many other benefits, and these, I think, puts this product over the top.
Multiple device types. Today, Office 365 Home Premium lets a family install the latest Office suite on up to 5 Windows PCs/devices and Macs. But in the future, this subscription will also include other device types. Microsoft isn’t talking yet for obvious reasons, but that has to include the iPad and probably Android tablets as well. Many families today have multiple device types, of course, and this subscription will in the future map nicely to these diverse technology uses.
Instant PC/device activiation/deactivation. That 5 PC/device limit isn’t hard and fast either. You can, in fact, deactivate any PC/device install of Office 2013 from the Office.com web portal and install the suite on any other PC/device, instantly. (That said, I’d like to see a way to pay more for additional licenses too.) On deactivated PCs, Office still works for reading documents, you just can't edit or save anymore. And you can reactivate that PC at any time and get back to work. Bonus.
Office On Demand. If you want to access any of the Office applications you’re already paying for, but aren’t using your own computer, you can do so using a cool technology called Office On Demand, which streams the application to any PC from Office.com, lets you use it normally and access and save documents to SkyDrive, and then uninstalls with no trace when you’re done. It’s like using HBO TO GO to watch an HBO series while you’re on the go, because you subscribe to the service back at home.
Extra SkyDrive storage. When you sign-up for Office 365 Home Premium, you do so with a Microsoft account, just as you sign into Windows 8/RT and Office 2013 with your Microsoft account. The account you use to create the Office 365 subscription will get an additional 20 GB of SkyDrive clouds storage for the lifetime of the subscription. (No, unfortunately, you can’t manage this storage and divvy it up with the other people installing Office in your household.)
Individual experiences. Speaking of which, while you do use a single Microsoft account to create an Office 365 subscription, each of the family members who installs Office on their own PCs will sign in with their own Microsoft account and get the personalized experience I wrote about recently, including their own settings sync, recent documents sync, SkyDrive access, and more.
Skype world calling minutes. You can sign into Skype with that Microsoft account, too, and the account used to create the Office 365 Home Premium subscription gets 60 free Skype world calling minutes per month, allowing you to call any mobile, landline or PC/device in the world.
Future upgrades. In the past, Microsoft would upgrade Office about once every three years and customers would upgrade to new Office versions once every 5-6 years. With Office 365 Home Premium, as with other Microsoft cloud services, Microsoft will be upgrading the products on a much faster timetable—I’m guessing quarterly at minimum—and you will receive these upgrades for free and automatically for the duration of your subscription. So when Office 2016 or whatever ships, you’ll get it, but then you will have received many other updates in the interim as well. This is a benefit that is hard to quantify, but the reason most people don’t upgrade to each Office revision now is the cost and complexity. These reasons no longer exist, unless of course you’re still buying Office the old-fashioned way. (Which, again, you can still do if the subscription doesn’t appeal to you.)
Office 365 Home Premium isn’t perfect, of course.
Depending on your needs, it may be more expensive than simply buying a normal Office retail product. This will be particularly true of individuals with no need for multiple device installs.
You cannot customize the Office install now, either, though Microsoft says it’s looking at changing this in the future. So when you install Office 2013 on a PC or device, you get the whole suite. If you didn’t want Access or Publisher, for example, there’s no way to configure it that way. You get all of it.
And you can’t pay more for additional licenses. If you need more, you need to buy another subscription, and you’ll need to do that from a different Microsoft account. This is a fringe use case, yes, but I know someone will ask about it.
Office 365 Home Premium is just a click away, you can purchase it or try it free for 30 days right now on Office.com. But as noted previously, it will also be available in trial form on new PCs, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro. You can also purchase it from over 100,000 resellers and over 450 retailers worldwide, including Best Buy, Staples, Dixons, FNAC, Challenger, Amazon.com, and the Microsoft Store.
While there will always be the subscription doubters and those who simply don’t need this much Office, I feel that this product is a no-brainer for families and others with multiple PCs and devices. And I can give Office 365 Home Premium the best possible rating: I’m using it myself, as is my family. This is a tremendous offering, a win-win for both Microsoft and its consumer customers. And you just don’t get to say that very often. Highly recommended for the target audience.
I have a lot more to say about Office 365 Home Premium and Office 2013. Stay tuned.