Subscribing to Microsoft Office 365

It’s been yearsoffice365 since I used Microsoft Office. I’ve been happily making do with Google Docs and not really feeling the lack of the complexity that is Office. But the kids need Office for School and so I finally bit the bullet.

But instead of buying Office I’ve subscribed to it via Office 365. For just over $100 pa I get all of Office installed on 5 computers plus a nifty little facility which allows me to use a mildy handicapped version on another computer if I need to. Installation was a breeze, apart from one bit of confusion requiring a call to some very rude customer service people. And Office is, well it’s Office and I’m not here to review Microsoft Word.

So is the subscription model worth it? The actual cost of the first year’s subscription depends, strangely enough, on where you buy it. The rough average is $100. That gives me installation on 5 computers plus a grab-bag of add-ons such as some Skype credit and access to Skydrive. That’s the entire Office suite too, including Access and Publisher.

If I were to buy the same Office suite outright it would cost me around $500 per computer. That’s a bit of a false comparison because I personally wouldn’t buy all of the suite. But even the most basic version of Office bought outright would cost me $130 per computer. So on its face as long as subscription prices hold roughly steady I should be better off – it would take around five years of capitalising the outright purchase cost to equate to my spend on the subscription. In addition, my subscription comes with all upgrades built-in. Over a five-year period there will be at least one Office upgrade which would require paying for; so again the financial side of this looks better. Again, though, the comparison is not entirely valid because in the past I simply haven’t bothered upgrading to more recent versions. But there a basic underlying validity that makes sense.

So if the makes financial sense where’s the downside. Well the starting point is that I don’t own the software; I can’t just stop paying a happily work along on an older version. If I decide to stop paying Microsoft I no longer have Office. I’m not terribly worried about that, I have to say. I’m used to subscription services – I use them for quite a few things these days, including acccess to a car. In fact I was at the same risk with Google Docs. The biggest risk in this context is that Microsoft gets silly with the pricing in subsequent years and tries to gouge out a higher rate of return. It being Microsoft we’re dealing with that isn’t an entirely unlikely scenario, albeit one likely to shoot them squarely in the foot with consumers. But Microsoft has a lot of experience with foot-damaging decisions.

The main reason I’m not unduly worried is that I’ve been down this road before. I’m a little surprised that no one I’ve read has mentioned Microsoft’s last foray into subscription pricing for Office. It must have been about 15 years ago, maybe even slightly longer, and I have the feeling it was something they trialled only here in Australia. I subscribed, and after a year they shut the entire program down and in apology gave me the Office suite for free – in fact I used that same one for many years after that.

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