Microsoft Office 365 – A Complete Guide
Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft 365 are subscription services that provide access to productivity apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. They also offer cloud storage, file sharing, collaboration tools, support services, and advanced security features.
With over 300 million commercial monthly active users as of 2021, Office 365 has become the leading productivity platform for homes, schools, and businesses of all sizes. However, the shift away from one-time purchases to a recurring subscription model has also sparked questions and confusion.
This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at what is included in Office 365 plans, how much they cost, who they are best suited for, and how the service compares to previous standalone versions of Microsoft Office. Read on for insights into using Word, Excel, Outlook, and other Office apps for free or with an Office 365 subscription.
A) Microsoft 365 vs. Office 365: Key Differences Explained
Microsoft 365 and Office 365 share many similarities, but there are some important distinctions between the Microsoft cloud services:
1. Is Office 365 being phased out?
No. Microsoft 365 was introduced in 2017 as a rebranded suite that bundles Office 365 with Windows 10 Enterprise management and security tools. Office 365 remains a core component of Microsoft 365 and continues to be marketed. There are no signs Office 365 will be discontinued as it surpasses 200 million monthly active commercial users.
2. What are the disadvantages of Office 365?
Potential downsides to Office 365 include:
- Recurring subscription fees vs. one-time purchase option.
- Access requires a reliable internet connection and login.
- Limited cloud storage in lower plans may be insufficient.
- Features and updates are controlled by Microsoft, not users.
- Lack of perpetual licensing means loss of access if the subscription lapses.
- Privacy concerns regarding data hosted on Microsoft servers.
3. Is Microsoft 365 better than standalone Office suites?
For most users, Microsoft 365 offers compelling benefits over old standalone versions of Office:
- Get full Office desktop apps plus cloud services like Exchange, SharePoint, Teams etc
- Always up-to-date apps with the latest features, no need to upgrade
- Install on multiple devices and seamlessly sync documents
- Built-in collaboration, sharing and workflow capabilities
- 1TB secure cloud storage per user with backup
- Unified management and deployment for large organizations
The main advantage of one-time purchases like Office 2019 is avoiding recurring subscription costs. However, it lacks online collaboration capabilities and requires manual updates.
4. Do you need an Office 365 subscription to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint?
An Office 365 subscription is not technically required to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Here are some free options:
- Office Online web apps offer limited editing at office.com
- iOS and Android mobile apps provide basic viewing and editing
- Windows 10 S Mode includes stripped-down Office web apps
- Older Office versions like Office 2010 can be used after a one-time purchase
However, free options have reduced capabilities. To unlock the full latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other desktop apps, an Office 365 subscription is currently the only method.
5. What apps and services are included in Office 365 plans?
Office 365 plans provide:
- Full desktop apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access
Online web apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
Mobile apps for iOS and Android devices
1 TB cloud storage with OneDrive per user
Business email, calendars, and contacts with Exchange Online
Team chat and collaboration with Microsoft Teams
Intranet site publishing and file management with SharePoint Online
Gather data with Forms, analyze it with Excel, and share insights with Power BI
Schedule appointments and manage customer data with Dynamics 365
Cloud PBX phone system with Microsoft Teams
Advanced security solutions like Azure Information Protection
Always up to date with the latest updates and new features
24/7 technical support options and end-user training resources
Lower-priced Office 365 plans may limit or exclude some applications and services like Access, Publisher, and Dynamics 365.
6. What are the different types of Office 365 plans?
Microsoft offers Office 365 plans for:
Home and Personal Use
- Office 365 Personal: For individual use on 1 PC/Mac and 1 tablet + 1TB storage
Office 365 Home: For up to 6 users with 6 installs each + 1TB storage per user
Students and Teachers
- Office 365 Education: Free Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for students
Office 365 A1 Plus: Full suite for students at discounted pricing
- Office 365 Business Basic: Web and mobile apps only
Office 365 Business Standard: Full desktop apps for PC/Mac
Office 365 Business Premium: Standard apps plus cloud services
Microsoft 365 Business: Premium apps and device management
Office 365 E1, E3, E5: Enterprise plans with compliance tools
- Office 365 Nonprofit Business Essentials: Free full suite for registered nonprofits
Discounted purchase options for charities and foundations
Choosing the right plan depends on the number of users and required apps, features, and services.
7. Is Microsoft Teams included with all Office 365 plans?
Microsoft Teams is included by default in almost all business and enterprise Office 365 subscriptions. However, some exceptions are:
- Office 365 F1, Business Basic – Don’t include Teams
Office 365 A1 for Students and Faculty – Teams optional add-on
Office 365 Personal and Home plans – Teams available but not automatically enabled
Before signing up, check if the plan description states Microsoft Teams is included. If not, it can usually be added on for a fee. Teams provide group chat, online meetings, collaboration on Office documents, and more.
8. Can I get Office 365 for free?
There are a few options to access Office 365 apps and services for free, with limitations:
- 1-month trials of Office 365 for home and business use
- Office 365 A1 education plans for students free
- Nonprofit donations and charity grants from Microsoft
- Limited Office Online web apps at office.com
- Free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mobile apps
However, to unlock the full functionality of Office desktop apps, additional cloud storage, premium support, and advanced features require a paid Office 365 subscription.
9. Does Office 365 work on macOS and Linux?
Yes, Office 365 is cross-platform compatible. When you subscribe, you can install the full Office desktop apps natively on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
Native Linux support is limited, but Office Online web apps, mobile apps for Android/iOS, and connecting remotely to cloud virtual desktops can enable Office 365 use on Linux devices.
So Office 365 is not strictly for Windows, with clients available for most major platforms. However, advanced functionality still works best in Windows environments.
10. Can I use Office 365 offline?
The full, installed Office desktop apps and mobile apps allow offline use by default for productivity while disconnected from the internet. However, web-based Office Online apps require an active internet connection at all times to function.
Some Office 365 features like co-authoring documents, mailbox syncing, Teams calls, and SharePoint collaboration are also disabled without internet connectivity. But core functions like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations work offline once applications are installed locally.
B) Getting Office 365 for Free or Cheap
Office 365 offers premium Office apps and collaborative cloud services. But is it possible to get access for free or at low cost? Here are some options to reduce or eliminate the cost of Microsoft 365 and Office 365:
1. What free Office 365 options exist?
Microsoft provides several free alternatives to paid Office 365 subscriptions:
- Office Online web apps – edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents in any modern browser
- Office mobile apps for iOS and Android – view and edit documents on phones/tablets
- Office Home & Student 2021 RTM – One-time purchase, no subscription needed
- Free Office 365 Education A1 plans for students at accredited schools
- Nonprofit donations and charity grants – Free full Office 365 plans
- 1-month trials of Office 365 to test full features
2. What happens when an Office 365 subscription expires?
If an Office 365 subscription is not renewed, access to cloud services like OneDrive, Skype, SharePoint, and Teams will eventually be disabled. Office desktop apps enter a reduced-functionality mode with editing restricted and no ability to create new documents.
To restore full access, the subscription must be renewed and the account reactivated. So maintaining an active subscription is required for uninterrupted access to Office 365 capabilities.
3. Can you use Office 365 on multiple computers?
Yes, most Office 365 Home and Business plans allow installing the full Office suite on 5 PCs or Macs, 5 tablets, and 5 smartphones per licensed user. So with a little multi-tasking, even the Home plans can often cover an entire household.
Enterprise Office 365 plans often come with unlimited device installs to equip your workforce. Simply log in to Office with the same Microsoft account across all machines.
4. Does Office 365 Business Premium allow sharing licenses?
Unfortunately, Office 365 Business Premium only allows each unique user account credential to be actively logged into one device at a time. So you cannot share licenses by having multiple people log into a single account.
But for families and small businesses, the affordably priced Office 365 Home allows license sharing with up to 6 users at the same time.
5. Can you get discounted Office 365 licenses for nonprofits?
Yes, Microsoft provides free and discounted Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans for registered nonprofits and charitable organizations. This includes:
- Office 365 Nonprofit Business Essentials – Free suite with Office apps, Exchange, SharePoint
- Discounted upgrade options with additional cloud services and features
- Eligibility for nonprofit grants and donations of Office 365 and Microsoft products
To qualify, submit proof of active registered nonprofit status from the government. Significant cost reductions are possible but require documentation.
6. How can students get Office 365 for free?
Students at accredited schools and universities can access Office 365 Education for free, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Teams. This provides:
- Full, installed Office apps on up to 5 PCs or Macs and mobile devices
- 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage
- Access to Microsoft Teams for classroom collaboration
- Pre-configured school email powered by Exchange Online
- Site publishing and document portals with SharePoint Online
- Licensing based on the number of enrolled students, not teachers
Contact your educational institution’s IT department to get the Office 365 login instructions and details. Home use rights allow students to install Office on their personal devices as well.
7. Can you get Office 365 cheaper than retail prices?
Some ways to get Office 365 at a discount compared to list prices:
- Buy an annual subscription instead of paying month-to-month
- Look for holiday sales around the back-to-school period and other major events
- See if your employer or school provides discounted Office 365 licenses
- Explore resale marketplaces for cheaper second-hand licenses
- Consider switching to less expensive license types like Office 365 E1
- Buy in bulk volume for enterprise plans to benefit from scaled pricing
While still a paid subscription, shopping around can help trim some costs off Office 365. Just make sure to only buy from reputable authorized sellers.
8. What’s the most affordable Office 365 plan for small businesses?
The most budget-friendly Office 365 option for small businesses is Office 365 Business Basic at $5.00 per user/month. It provides:
- Online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook email
File sharing and online meetings with Microsoft Teams
1 TB cloud storage per user through OneDrive
Enterprise-grade security protections and support
While it lacks the full installed desktop apps, Office 365 Business Basic provides essential online productivity and collaboration tools at the lowest price point.
9. Can you use Office 365 without an internet connection?
The installed desktop Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint allow offline use by default once downloaded for full local functionality. However, online services like Exchange, OneDrive, and SharePoint require an active internet connection.
Some offline workarounds include:
- Enable offline mode in OneDrive to view and edit cloud files without the internet
Sync SharePoint libraries locally through OneDrive connectors
Cache Outlook emails, calendars, and contacts on the desktop for offline access
So with some planning, you can leverage Office 365 across online and offline scenarios. But 100% internet-independent use is limited.
10. Does Office Mobile include all the features of Office 365?
No, the free Office Mobile apps for iOS and Android provide only a subset of features compared to full Office 365 apps:
- View, edit, and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents
Take photos of documents and convert them to Word/PDF
Dictate speech and record audio notes
Limited formatting options and templates vs. desktop apps
No macros, pivot tables, formulas, or advanced features
Office Mobile offers basic editing for phones and tablets. But power users will want the full desktop apps and capabilities included in paid Office 365 plans.
C) Office 365 Pricing, Plans and Cost Considerations
Deciding which Office 365 subscription plan fits your needs depends on several factors. Here is an overview of pricing, how much Office 365 costs, and what to consider when choosing a plan:
1. How much does Office 365 cost?
Office 365 pricing ranges from $5.00 per user/month for web-only Business Basic to $57 per user/month for enterprise E5 with maximum features. Home plans start at $6.99 per month for a single user. Major pricing tiers:
- Office 365 Business Basic: $5/user/month or $60/year
Office 365 Business Standard: $12.50/user/month or $150/year
Office 365 Business Premium: $20/user/month or $240/year
Office 365 ProPlus: $12/user/month or $144/year
Microsoft 365 Business: $20/user/month or $240/year
Office 365 E3: $32/user/month or $384/year
Office 365 E5: $57/user/month or $684/year
2. What is the cheapest Office 365 plan?
The most affordable paid Office 365 plan is Office 365 Business Basic at just $5/month per user. It provides online/mobile Office apps, 1 TB OneDrive storage, and Microsoft Teams.
The absolute cheapest option is Office 365 A1 for Education which is free for students, though it has usage restrictions.
3. How much does Office 365 cost for 5 users?
For families and small businesses, here are some approximate costs for 5 Office 365 users:
- Office 365 Home: $100/year total for 5 users ($20 per user)
Office 365 Business Basic: $300/year ($60 per user)
Office 365 Business Standard: $750/year ($150 per user)
Microsoft 365 Business: $1,200/year ($240 per user)
The per-user cost decreases slightly in higher tiers when licensing more users. But Office 365 Home remains the most affordable multi-user option.
4. What is the easiest Office 365 plan for families?
For families and home use, Office 365 Home provides the simplest plan at just $99.99 per year for up to 6 users. It includes:
- Full, installed Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
Office for Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android phones/tablets
1 TB OneDrive cloud storage per user (total 6 TB for family)
License can be shared across multiple PCs/devices
Family essentials like advanced security, Microsoft Teams, ongoing tech support
With license sharing and enough storage for your family’s files, Office 365 Home keeps productivity flowing smoothly in the household.
5. How much does Office 365 cost for nonprofit organizations?
Office 365 is free or discounted for registered nonprofits:
- Office 365 Nonprofit Business Essentials: Free (300 user limit)
Office 365 Nonprofit Business Premium: $5/user/month with full desktop apps
Microsoft 365 Nonprofit: $8/user/month with Windows licenses
Eligible for donations, grants and discounts on all other plans
Significant savings are available but require submitting proof of current 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit status.
6. Does Office 365 offer monthly or annual payment options?
Office 365 can be paid monthly or upfront annually:
- Monthly plans have higher per-user costs but allow stopping after one month.
Annual plans have lower per-user monthly rates with a 1-year commitment.
A mix of monthly and annual billing is possible for different users.
For the biggest savings, pay for Office 365 licenses annually rather than month-to-month. However, the monthly option provides more flexibility if needs change.
7. Can I get a discount for paying Office 365 annually?
Yes, Microsoft offers discounted pricing for annual Office 365 subscriptions paid upfront compared to paying monthly:
- Office 365 Business Basic: $5/month vs. $60/year (~20% savings)
- Office 365 Business Standard: $12.50/month vs. $150/year (~17% savings)
- Office 365 Business Premium: $20/month vs. $240/year (~17% savings)
The % savings is lower in higher tiers but paying annually always results in a lower effective per-user cost over time.
8. Does Office 365 offer academic pricing?
Yes, Office 365 Education is free for students at eligible schools and universities. Teachers and faculty can get Office 365 A1 for just $2.50 per user/month.
School IT admins also get special discounted volume academic pricing when licensing Office 365 for the entire institution. Significant savings are available but require academic verification.
9. Can I get a refund on Office 365 subscriptions?
Office 365 subscriptions are non-refundable once redeemed, but you can cancel a subscription at any time to avoid future billing. Unused time on monthly subscriptions is credited if you cancel mid-cycle.
For annual plans, you can receive a prorated refund within 60 days of redeeming the subscription, minus any time already used. Refund eligibility and amounts depend on the specific plan purchased.
10. Does Office 365 offer enterprise pricing?
Yes, Microsoft offers discounted volume and multi-year licensing pricing for large organizations with 100+ Office 365 users. Enterprise plan options include:
- Office 365 E1 – starting at $8/user/month with annual commitment
Office 365 E3 – starting at $16/user/month with annual commitment
Office 365 E5 – starting at $35/user/month with annual commitment
Enterprise plans come with compliance tools, information protection, device management, and more capabilities. Contact Microsoft sales to discuss enterprise Office 365 pricing.
11. How can you lower the ongoing cost of Office 365?
Some ways to reduce the long-term cost of Office 365:
- Pay annually upfront instead of monthly to get a discount
Buy licenses in bulk volume to qualify for enterprise pricing
Reduce unnecessary storage or switch to lower-cost plans
Only license employees who truly require the full desktop apps
Evaluate if web-only or mobile-only access could work for some users
Utilize the Office 365 Home plan for families and small business
Switch from premium enterprise plans to standard plans where feasible
While still a subscription, careful planning when purchasing and assigning Office 365 licenses can optimize the value.
12. Does Office 365 offer any perpetual license options?
No perpetual licenses exist for Office 365 since it is a cloud subscription service. But Microsoft still sells perpetual licenses for previous one-time purchase Office suites like Office 2021 and Office 2019.
These do not require ongoing payments but are not updated with new features. They also lack the full cloud capabilities of Office 365.
For the latest productivity apps, collaboration tools, and continuous updates, an Office 365 subscription is now the only option offered by Microsoft.
13. Can I use Office 365 on unlimited computers?
Most Office 365 plans allow installing the desktop apps on 5 PCs or Macs per licensed user. However, Microsoft 365 Business Premium raises this limit to unlimited device installs per user.
This allows each employee to use the Office apps across as many computers, phones and tablets as needed – no counting devices. However, simultaneous use is still limited to one machine.
So while most plans cap total installs, the unlimited option provides flexibility for employees collaborating across multiple work devices.
14. Does Office 365 improve productivity over previous Office versions?
Studies show employees achieve measurable productivity gains with Office 365 compared to standalone Office. Benefits include:
- Work from anywhere with cloud-based, mobile access
Collaborate in real-time with built-in Microsoft Teams
No time wasted manually updating to new versions
IT spends less time on upgrades and maintenance
New AI features in Office apps like suggested edits in Word
Enhanced security reduces downtime from cyber threats
Analytics identify opportunities to improve workflows
Forrester Research found an average ROI of $8.54 per user/month from time savings and efficiency gains with Office 365.
15. Should I choose Microsoft 365 or Office 365 for business?
For most small businesses, Office 365 provides all the core apps and services needed – including Office suites, Exchange email, SharePoint sites, Microsoft Teams, and OneDrive storage.
Microsoft 365 builds on Office 365 by adding Windows 10 Enterprise management capabilities for larger deployments. Choose Microsoft 365 if centralized control over Windows devices is also a priority.
But for 20 employees or less, Office 365 Business Premium likely provides the ideal productivity tools for driving business growth at a lower cost.
D) Using Office 365 Apps for Free
While the full capabilities of Office 365 require a paid subscription, Microsoft does provide several ways to access basic Office apps for free:
1. What are the limitations of free web-based Office apps?
The Office Online apps accessible at office.com let you view and lightly edit documents without an Office 365 subscription. But limitations include:
- Cannot create new Word docs or Excel sheets, just view and make minor edits
Missing many advanced features only in full desktop apps
File format support is limited, and cannot open all document types
Functions slower than installed desktop apps
Requires a continuous internet connection to use
The free web apps are handy for quick edits but lack the capabilities of full Office.
2. Can you use Office Mobile without an Office 365 subscription?
Yes, the free Office Mobile apps for iOS and Android provide basic viewing and editing of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents on phones or tablets without an Office 365 subscription. But, Office Mobile has limited functionality:
- Cannot create new documents, only edit existing ones
Smaller set of features than desktop apps
No support for adding macros, pivot tables, formulas, etc.
Requires Office Mobile app to be installed from the app store
Documents do not auto-save to the cloud storage
3. What Office apps are included free with Windows?
Windows 10 S Mode provides free access to streamlined web and mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. However, they have reduced features and functionality aimed at basic tasks.
To unlock the full desktop Office apps, Windows 10 Pro can remotely connect to another PC with Office installed and authorized. But Windows itself does not come bundled with the latest Office 365 desktop software.
4. Can you use Office 365 on a Chromebook?
Chromebooks cannot natively run Office 365 desktop apps. But there are some workarounds:
- Use Office Online web apps through the Chrome browser
Install Office Android mobile apps from the Google Play Store
Use Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to a PC with Office 365
Subscribe to Office 365 for enterprise and use cloud virtual desktops
So while not supported directly, Chromebooks can access parts of Office 365 through web and mobile apps or virtualization.
5. What are some free alternative office suites besides Microsoft Office?
Some free, open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office include:
- Apache OpenOffice – Provides word processing, spreadsheets, etc.
LibreOffice – Popular open-source office suite, similar to OpenOffice.
WPS Office – Lightweight Word, spreadsheet, presentation apps. Ad-supported.
Google Workspace – Docs, Sheets, Slides online office apps. Requires Google account.
Apple iWork – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps included free on Macs.
SoftMaker FreeOffice – Windows and Linux office suite with text editor, spreadsheet and presentation apps.
These provide basic document creation and editing capabilities for free, with some limitations. However, they avoid the need for an Office 365 subscription for core functionality.
6. Can you use Office web apps without an Office 365 account?
Yes, Office Online apps work without an Office 365 subscription or Microsoft account. You can visit office.com and start using stripped-down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote through any modern web browser.
However, documents cannot be stored in the cloud without signing up for OneDrive storage. And advanced features remain limited compared to paid Office 365.
7. Does Office Mobile allow the creation of documents?
Unfortunately, the free Office Mobile apps do not support creating new documents. You can only view and make basic edits to existing Office documents stored locally or in the cloud.
To enable full document creation and editing capabilities in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office apps on mobile devices requires an Office 365 subscription.
8. Can you still use Office if you don’t renew an Office 365 subscription?
If an Office 365 subscription is not renewed, the installed desktop Office apps will continue working but enter a reduced-functionality mode with these restrictions:
- Cannot create new Word documents, Excel sheets, etc.
Can only view and lightly edit existing documents
Many advanced features are disabled
Eventually may enter read-only mode with all editing blocked
So the desktop apps still work for viewing and light editing but lose full capabilities without an active Office 365 subscription. Online services also get disabled.
9. Does cancelling Office 365 delete your documents?
No, cancelling or letting an Office 365 subscription expire does not delete your locally saved Office documents or files stored in OneDrive. You retain access to these files.
However, you may lose the ability to actively open, edit and share documents without an active Office 365 subscription depending on the specific plan and apps you were using.
But the documents themselves remain intact after cancellation unless you separately delete your OneDrive account.
10. Can you recover an expired Office 365 subscription?
If your Office 365 subscription expires or lapses due to non-renewal, you can recover it and restore access to all features by:
- Renewing the subscription to activate a new term and billing cycle.
- Redeeming a new product key if the original subscription key expired.
This will re-enable the full Office desktop apps and cloud services. However, documents restricted during the expired period will need to be re-opened.
So with renewal, Office 365 subscriptions can be recovered after expiration to provide continuous access to Office apps and cloud collaboration capabilities.