Microsoft rolls out Office 365 family plan

One subscription serves up to five Windows computers

Microsoft is rolling out a family plan for its Office 365 service that supports up to five machines under a single subscription, which the company says is enough to cover a typical household.

Microsoft today rolled out its New Office software, presenting it as a family plan for its Office 365 cloud service for five machines rather than as a download or disk for just one machine.

Called Office 365 Home Premium, the service includes access to all Office applications -- Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Excel, Publisher and Access -- that are upgraded by Microsoft in the cloud, so users don't have to worry about updates. Microsoft says these upgrades will be more frequent than they have been in the past with Office that was sold as downloads or on disks.

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It comes with 20GB of cloud storage in Microsoft's SkyDrive, which is in addition to the 7GB customers get with a personal SkyDrive account. The service includes 60 minutes per month of free Skype service.

Individual users with a single Home Premium account and individual Microsoft accounts can segregate their documents from each other. So a father could create a spreadsheet in Office 365 that would not appear when his daughter logged in to Excel using her Microsoft account, although they can choose to share documents. (Watch a slideshow of Microsoft Office 365.)

Individual users' preferences are preserved so they take effect when they log in. So if customers indicate a preference for showing the command ribbon in Word, it will appear automatically when they open Word.

Office 365 Home Premium customers can connect to their accounts via any Windows 7 or Windows 8 machine that is connected to the Internet. Logging in to their Microsoft account and opening an Office app triggers a download of that full app. Customers can do work and store it in SkyDrive, and when they close the app, it is removed from the machine.

The service costs $99.99 per year and is available through hardware OEMs, retail stores such as Best Buy and Staples, Amazon.com, Microsoft Store and Office.com.

The Office.com website has been revamped to act as a hub where customers can manage their account. It also includes an Office app store where third parties can sell applications that supplement Office apps. This might include, for example, an app that links social network contacts with Outlook contacts.

Office itself has been upgraded so it is optimized for Windows 8 machines, including more support for touch and stylus commands in addition to keyboard and mouse.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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