updated 03:07 am EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
Subscription-based model may become the norm for PC users
Microsoft will offer new buyers (as of October 19) of its existing Office 2011 standalone software for Macs the option of receiving either a free year's worth of the newly-announced Office 365 Home Premium -- a new consumer version of the online edition of Office that runs by subscription -- or a free upgrade to the next version of Microsoft Office for Mac. The promotion appears to be an either-or offer, but may give Mac users (for the first time) access to the entire suite of Office applications -- and a better look at the previously business-only Office 365.
The move is seen both as a way of covering for an extended delay before the next Mac standalone version comes out (which the company has now acknowledged is in progress but has not set a release date for) and as helping foster adoption of the subscription model for Office 365, which offers some advantages (particularly to Mac users) over the traditional model, but also some drawbacks. In addition to the full range of Office apps being available to both platforms, the subscription-based Office 365 offers steady updates and periodic additional capabilities and features and is seen as now being Microsoft's preferred way for users to use the suite.
The cost of the subscription is $100 per year or $8.33 per month. Microsoft will also make standalone but download-centric version of Office 2013 for PC users but hasn't said when the Mac version will be arriving, and until today had left it unclear that a standalone version was even in the works for the Mac platform. As Office 365 will eventually incorporate Office 2013 for Windows features, it will offer Mac users the staple Word, Excel, Outlook and Powerpoint apps, but also OneNote, Publisher, Access and other smaller apps for the first time. The company says it will include 20GB of cloud-based SkyDrive storage and an hour of free Skype-to-phone worldwide usage per month, and the 365 version may be available as long as two years ahead of the next standalone Mac version of Office.
One possible advantage of the subscription model to some users of both platforms would be that the license includes up to five computers (with an unlimited number of users), compared to the three users and licenses currently found in the "Home and Student" edition of Office 2011 for Mac. Users who had only seasonal or periodic need of the software could conceivably save money by purchasing a monthly rental only when they actually need it, and the promise of continual updates and potential new features may be valuable to those who rely on the software for their work.
On the other hand, users tend to go through a cycle of disliking the new version, followed by acceptance and familiarity with how it works, and eventually mastering it and holding on to that version out of comfort for perhaps years beyond Microsoft's intentions, then finally upgrading and repeating the cycle. Occasional users who come back to the program under subscription only to find it has been redesigned in the meantime may find the ever-evolving web-based version disorienting.
For PC users, Office 2013 will be priced (as a standalone program) at $140 for the Home and Student edition, with the Home and Business edition (which includes Outlook) costing $220. The Professional Editing (includes Access and Publisher) will sell for $400. Microsoft has not said when Office 2013 for Windows will actually ship as of yet. The company plans to let retailers sell a "Produce Key Card" for it rather than a boxed DVD, which users can then redeem for the download of the software. Office 2013 itself will not include any offers for Office 365, the promotion being intended only for new buyers of Office 2010 for Windows or 2011 for Mac.
To answer the criticism that web-based apps are useless when Internet access is interrupted, the Home Premium annual plan also includes temporary-use local versions of the applications to short-term access issues. There will also be a new Small Business Premium version of Office 365, good for companies with one to 10 employees that offers 25GB of Outlook cloud storage, a 10GB shared SkyDrive account (plus a 500MB one for each individual user), the ability for each user to install their "copy" on up to five machines (so up to 500 computers altogether), website hosting and online video-conference meetings and other features. It costs $149 per user per year.