Licensing Microsoft Office

Word, Excel and PowerPoint have traditionally been sold together as a package called Microsoft Office, but there are now several options for buying these apps, which can be confusing — so let’s review the facts without delay!

Office isn’t free

You need a license to use the familiar desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the other Office apps. Usually, this means buying one for yourself or your family.

If you are in education, your school or university might have a license that you can also use on your own computer, so ask them about this.

It doesn’t come with the computer

When you buy a Windows-based computer, you’ll find the Office apps on your Start menu, but they won’t work without a license.

It’s sold on subscription

Most people buy the Office apps as a monthly or annual subscription known as Microsoft 365. This has the following benefits over a one-time purchase:

You need a Microsoft account

You’ve probably already got a Microsoft account, and it’s free to create one, but gone are the days when you could buy Office on disc and simply install it. Even if you buy Office or Microsoft 365 from a shop, you just get a product key, which you must then link to your Microsoft account in order to download and activate the software.

Business licenses are different

The versions of Microsoft 365 and Office most prominently advertised in shops are usually only for you or your family’s personal, non-commercial use — think homework, recipes, and posters for the church fete. If you’re a business, you need either a Microsoft 365 business subscription for every employee who uses the apps, or a one-time purchase of Office Home & Business for each computer. The same is true if you’re self-employed.

You might not need it

Alternative word processors, spreadsheets and presentation applications are available — for free. They can open files created with Office:

Microsoft also makes web-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint available for free. This means you use them in a browser, like Chrome or Edge, and store your files exclusively in OneDrive rather than on your computer. Their features are limited compared to the traditional desktop versions.

License options

Time to buy? Here are the popular options, with prices as of April 2023:

UsePay annuallyPay once
Personal£59 (365 Personal)
1 person, multiple devices
£119 (Home & Student)
One computer only
Family£79 (365 Family)
6 people, multiple devices
Business£123 (Apps for business)
1 person, multiple devices
£249 (Home & Business)
One computer only

Buy your chosen edition as a download directly from Microsoft.

A word of warning

There are many websites selling product keys for Office at suspiciously low prices. As you might imagine, these keys are typically counterfeit, stolen, or otherwise obtained in ways that mean they cannot legitimately be used. Be sure to buy the software either directly from Microsoft or from a reputable retailer like Argos, Currys or John Lewis.