Although new releases of Microsoft Office are not the newsworthy events of past years, you are likely aware that Microsoft Office 2013 and Office 365 were released last year (2013). You may even be using these options although adoption is not yet catching on like a wildfire. These latest versions represent a big change in how we can consume Microsoft Office primarily due to the move to the cloud (also known as cloud computing).

The cloud is like file storage in the sky. But it is also a way that programs can be delivered to you without necessarily installing them on your computer. You can get to the cloud anytime you’re online. In fact, you may already be using browser-based (cloud) programs to get your work done every day.

Understanding Your Choices

Now Microsoft Office is more connected to the cloud than ever before. And your choices for how you purchase and interact with Microsoft Office are more expanded and yes, more confusing than ever before. Your choices include:

Microsoft Office 2013
Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft Office Web Apps
Let’s look at a quick overview of these different options or flavors of Microsoft Office.

Try office.com/setup to work in the office.
Microsoft Office 2013

This is the name of the latest version of the traditional Microsoft Office software package that includes the individual desktop programs you are so familiar with such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint. As before, multiple choices are available within this suite including Home & Student, Home & Business, and Professional. Each of these includes a specific selection of the suite programs. For example, the Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Business version includes Microsoft Outlook but not Microsoft Access or Microsoft Publisher.

Although still, a stand-alone suite of programs, Office 2013 is more cloud-based than previous versions. For instance, the default save location is the user’s online OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service).

How do you switch to Office 2013?

In business, your upgrade to Office 2013 would be similar to past updates. That is, your organization purchases licenses to use Office 2013 and applies an upgrade plan for computer users.

For your own personal or small business use, you buy the program outright with no subscription fees and either install from a disk or download.

What is Microsoft Office 365?

Office 365 delivers the Office 2013 programs as part of a subscription service that includes online storage, sharing, and syncing via Microsoft cloud services. Office 365 is available in a different home, business, government, and education editions.

When purchased as part of an Office 365 subscription, the Office 2013 programs and associated services are always available in the latest version as well as upgrades to future versions of Microsoft Office for the same subscription fee which starts at $10 to $15 a month for home or small business versions.

One of the confusing parts about Office 365 is that, even though this is a cloud-based service, you do not have to be perpetually online to access programs such as Excel and Word. These programs are installed from the web, but they work just like traditional desktop software, whether you are online or offline. And so, Office 365 is not fully cloud based. Being online and signed in allows you to access files in cloud storage services.

The Office 365 Home Premium version allows up to 5 installs per account or user which can be a huge plus for households. Each user has access to their own files and their individual customization is saved as well. The Office 365 management portal allows you to deactivate the installed copy of Office from one or more devices so you can install it on a new device (desktop computer, laptop, Windows-based tablet). Plus, updates are automatic so you’ll always have the latest version of Microsoft Office.

Part of the confusion around Office 365 is that not all versions actually deliver the full Microsoft Office suite. Office 365 has been available for about three years to provide business, government, and other organizations with multiple enterprise-level services. Currently offered in six different plans targeted to small business, midsize business, and enterprise-level organizations, Office 365 may include online hosting of Exchange Server (for Microsoft Outlook), SharePoint, web conferencing, and include some level of the Office Web Apps. Although not as highly customizable, moving hosting of some services, such as Microsoft Exchange hosted e-mail, from internal services and administration to online can equal big cost savings to large organizations. Office 365 now includes three plans which add desktop versions of Microsoft Office 2013 Professional Pro and allow up to 5 PCs/Macs per user. Additional plans are available for education and government.

How do you switch to Office 365?

You do not need Office 365 to get Office 2013. You can still purchase any Office 2013 edition with a perpetual license that doesn’t require any ongoing subscription fees. This version can be combined with a free Microsoft Account to allow online OneDrive document storage and sharing. Note: If you don’t already have it, Office 2013 is no longer available through Office 365 for individuals.

Office Web Apps

The browser-based Office Web Apps include scaled-back versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote that enable viewing and lightweight editing of Office documents while preserving the formatting of the original documents. Available on your web browser, phone, or computer, the Office Web Apps are focused on Microsoft Office files stored in the cloud and maintain compatibility.

The Office Web Apps are available free through the OneDrive cloud service with some storage and file size limitations. For free OneDrive storage, head to https://www.OneDrive.com and log-in with any Microsoft e-mail account including outlook.com, msn.com, hotmail.com, and live.com.

These Office Web Apps offer you the flexibility of accessing and editing important files from multiple computers and tablets. These apps don’t require an installation or access to any version of Office but the features are very limited. If you do have a version of Office installed on your computer, you can also open files on OneDrive with the fully functional programs on your desktop.

What’s Next?

Whether or not you are ready to make the move to the latest versions of Microsoft Office, expect to see a bigger push to the cloud and to subscription-based programs. The old model of desktop-based software programs is changing in many organizations and may some day just be a quaint memory for long-term Office users.

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