Microsoft Office 365 and Office 2013: Flexibility for a good price

After almost two months with the new Microsoft Office, here is what I think.

Shortly after upgrading to Windows 8 I decided to take the double plunge and upgrade to Office 2013. Instead of paying a few hundred dollars and seeking to check out the SaaS offering I opted for the Home Office 365 version of Office 2013. On top of this I chose the monthly payment plan for $9.99 a month (you can also get it for $99.99 a year and save $20). After almost two months of using Office 365, I am ready to report on what I like and don't like about the model and product.

First of all, let me address the price. While $10 a month sounds like a lot of money to rent, and not buy, MS Office, it isn't when you examine it. You probably upgrade your Office suite every two to three years. To do so is about $400 retail. While you can stay on an old version of Office longer if you like, the fact is many people upgrade. So, over the course of the two-to-three-year lifecycle of a version of Office, it appears it is a little more expensive to rent the SaaS version. But, as I said, when you dig in you see it may not be.

First of all is the fact that, unlike traditional versions of Office, with Office 365 I can install Office on up to five separate computers (PCs or Mac and even Windows tablets). So if you were to put this on five machines, you are paying only about $2 per month per device. At that price, it is a really good deal. Of course, how many of us have five separate machines to put this on? In my case, I have it on three machines; my laptop, our family desktop and a machine in my office. Even at three machines, though, paying about $3.33 a month seems pretty reasonable. As long as Microsoft keeps this license model where Office 365 is a good deal if you have multiple devices to install it on. 

Another point is this model is updated automatically. When Office 9 or Office 2016 or whatever comes out next, I don't lay out the cap ex to upgrade; it is part of my plan.

Something else to ponder are the extras Microsoft throws in with Office 365. As part of using the SaaS version I get 25 GB (I think it is 5 free plus 20GB with the Office version) of Skydrive. I know there is no shortage of online storage and file sharing options. I wrote about Barracuda Copy last week. I also have Dropbox and Google Drive. But Microsoft has done a nice job of integrating Skydrive into the Office experience. Saving files in Skydrive, sharing them with others and accessing them from anywhere are all really, really easy with Office 365. Skydrive is certainly worth the price.  My issue is I am not sure I will ever need more than 5GB (which is free). Not sure what to do with the 25GB that I have. If history is any guide, though, the lesson is nature abhors unused storage. I am sure over time I will find ways to fill out those extra gigs.

Another extra Microsoft gives me is 60 minutes a month of Skype credit. Nice way to tie in Skype to the Office flagship. Unfortunately, though,I use Skype mostly for podcasts, and that is computer-to-computer. I bought $5.00 of Skype time about three years ago and still have $2.50 of it left. So I haven't used any of the Skype credit yet. As such, it is not as big a plus for me. But who knows, I might start dialing out on Skype or get a Skype phone, and that could change.

Beyond the price, let me address a few more things about Office 365. First of all is that some people think that the Office productivity programs are not actually installed on your computer and you have to run them in a browser online. Not true. You actually have a full install of all of the programs locally on your machine. You can use the web version on remote or temporary machines (so they don't count towards your 5 licenses). That means that working offline is not an issue at all.

The lineup for Office 365 is pretty full-featured. I get the flagship products of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note, Access, Publisher and Outlook. That is comparable to the Office Professional lineup that is about $400. On top of that, I get all of the extra little applets (not sure they still call them that or if they ever did, but I used to). Also, as a SaaS product, I get all of the upgrades for free.

This is not a bad deal from Microsoft. In terms of performance, the new Office version is pretty snappy and I did not have a big learning curve upgrading from Office 2010 to this (I was already used to the ribbon menus). But Office 2013 does give you a lot of customization options in terms of how the applications look. You can have backgrounds in the menu sections, you can customize the ribbons if you want, etc. For me, I basically left things alone. Overall, I am very pleased with Office 2013. I have not used Access yet and really don't use Publisher much (I should; it looked good the few times I opened it).

My biggest con about the suite so far is that by default it does not let you open up files that came from other computers. This in and of itself would be OK if it just told you that was what it was doing. Instead, you get some cryptic message about the file being corrupted or something. I had to Google this to find out what it meant. Once I found out I was able to set the security options in each program so I don't have to deal with that issue anymore.

As I mentioned, I love the Skydrive integration and use it to store more and more of my documents and files. While I don't play favorites in online file sharing, the great integration has me using Skydrive more than any of the other choices on my computers.

Overall, after two months, I am a big fan of Office 365 and feel like I am getting more than my money's worth from this new way of consuming Microsoft Office.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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