If you are new to Microsoft Office or plan to upgrade the suite of apps, you will come across two products, including Office 2021 and the Office apps from Microsoft 365, making the decision a little more complicated. Although these offerings give you access to the same set of apps, the difference comes down to the list of additional benefits and costs.
What you need to know about Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 is the name for the paid service that has replaced Office 365. The service has a different name, but it offers the same apps available with Office 2021, plus the benefits of the previous name. The only difference is that you will also get many new extras.
Microsoft 365 is the new brand for the paid service that replaces Office 365.
Since this is a paid service, you will be making payments every month (or every year) to use the suite of apps, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access, and others on all your devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones). However, this is as long as only five devices are accessing the account at one time.
Also, if you get the Family subscription plan, you can share the account with up to five additional users for a total of up to six people with one plan.
Perhaps the most significant advantage is that you never have to think about upgrades ever again. When you install the Office apps from Microsoft 365, you will always be in the latest version. This means that once the apps are installed, they will automatically receive security and maintenance updates, improvements, and new features as soon as they are ready. For instance, once available, you will be able to install the redesigned version of Office on Windows 11 or Windows 10.
The service lets you access cloud-based features to improve your productivity in school, office, and across devices (Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android). Everyone in the plan will get 1TB of OneDrive storage (up to 6TB in total with the Family subscription) and Skype minutes. The subscription also includes support through phone and chat to resolve any issue.
If you have a lot of photos and videos, in addition to the existing 1TB of cloud storage, it's possible to purchase up to 1TB of additional OneDrive storage on 200GB increments for an extra $1.99 per month, doubling the total storage capacity to 2TB (1TB already included with the plan and 1TB with the additional plan) for $9.99 per month. The option is available for Microsoft 365 Personal and Family members. However, only the primary account holder will receive the additional storage if you have the Family plan.
Who should buy Microsoft 365?
Microsoft 365 is the best option if you want everything since you can install the apps on every device (Windows 11, 10, 8.1, and macOS). It is also the only option that provides continuous updates at a low cost of ownership. In contrast, Office 2021 only allows you to install the apps on one computer running Windows 11 (or Windows 10), and you have to pay again for upgrades.
If you need access to the suite of apps, Microsoft 365 is perhaps your best choice.
The cloud service option comes in two offerings. If you would be the only one using the apps and cloud services, the "Microsoft 365 Personal" plan is for you. It costs $70 a year (or $7/month), and it gives you access to all the apps, alongside 1TB of OneDrive storage.
On the other hand, if you plan to share the subscription with family or friends, the "Microsoft 365 Family" plan is the option for you. It costs $100 per year ($10/month), you can share (using the "Services & subscriptions" tab in your Microsoft account online) the benefits with up to six family members and friends, and everyone gets their own 1TB of OneDrive storage. Also, they can access the services on up to five devices at the same time.
Whatever plan you select, you will have access to the additional services, including the Microsoft Family Safety experience to manage screen time, app, and game usage, share location, monitor driving behavior for young drivers, and more.
Other premium features include Microsoft Editor for grammar checking, spelling, and writing style using AI assistance and other AI-based creative tools. For example, PowerPoint Presenter Coach helps you practice presentations, and Designer enables you to create effective slide presentations. Resume Assistant is a great tool to write the best resumes in Word with insights powered by Microsoft LinkedIn. Also, there's Money in Excel to view, track, and organize household finances. You will also receive creative content like icons, fonts, stock photos, and premium templates for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
The subscription also unlocks the premium version of the Outlook website, which includes everything on the free version, plus 50GB of storage, removes advertisements, and offers message encryption and enhanced security. As a paid member, you will also get special offers from Microsoft partners.
Some services bundled with Microsoft 365 are also available without a subscription using a Microsoft account, but you will only get limited functionalities that can be unlocked only with a subscription.
When you choose one of the subscriptions, you should get the yearly plan to save money, plus you do not have to worry about payments for at least a year.
The company also offers the service at no extra cost using a valid school email address if you are a student or teacher. This plan lets you install Word, Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, Microsoft Teams, and other school tools for free.
What you need to know about Office 2021
Microsoft Office 2021 is the name for the standalone version of the suite of apps, and it's the offering that does not require a subscription. This means you own the copy forever after the one-time purchase.
The standalone version of Office (also referred to as the "on-premises" or "perpetual" version) allows you to install and update the apps on one computer. However, you cannot upgrade to the following version. In other words, you can continue to use the apps for their lifecycle (usually five years) and beyond (without updates). However, when you have to upgrade to another version in the future, you will have to purchase the product again.
Office 2021 comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook (only on the business version), but it includes only a limited scope of features and does not have the same benefits available with a Microsoft 365 subscription. For example, you won't find cloud and AI-based features or other services like the premium version of "Outlook.com" and 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage.
Who should buy Office 2021?
The Microsoft Office 2021 bundle was designed for commercial customers with volume licenses who are not ready for cloud-based apps and have specific requirements to use the suite of apps on-premise. However, anyone who doesn't like a subscription can purchase this offering.
Anyone can purchase Office 2021, but this version has been designed for certain commercial customers.
If you are a home user, this option makes sense only if you can afford the upfront cost and want a more traditional experience. It may also be a good choice if you plan to use the apps on one computer, you do not need additional features, or are not ready for the Microsoft 365 subscription.
Although you are only purchasing one license for one Windows 11, Windows 10, or macOS computer with this product, you can also install the apps on your phone, but with limited functionalities.
Office 2021 comes in three flavors, including Office Home & Student 2021, Office Home & Business 2021, and Office Professional 2021, and they are usually priced at $150, $250, and $440, respectively. Office Home & Student 2021 comes with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while Office Home & Business 2021 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Office Professional 2021 comes with all the apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and Access.
Unlike previous versions, Office 2021 is only supported on Windows 11, Windows 10, or the three most recent versions of macOS. If you want to install Office on Windows 8.1, you will need a Microsoft 365 subscription.
Microsoft 365 vs. Office 2021: Which should you buy?
The final decision comes down to how much you need from the apps and other services. If you plan to stay with Office for many years, Microsoft 365 is hands-down your best option. The reason is that with the subscription, you will get full access to the apps and benefits at a low cost of ownership.
Get more and stay productive with the latest features
Microsoft 365 gives you access to all the Office apps and extra features, such as 1TB of OneDrive, Outlook premium, and AI-based features. You can also install Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and other apps on up to six devices, and you can share the subscription with up to six people (using the Family plan), and they can use the service on up to five devices at the same time.
Pay once and use it forever
Office 2021 includes all the popular apps, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, with all the features you need to get work done.
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