Licensing Microsoft Office

By Martin Edwards

Published November 2017, last updated March 2018

Word, Excel and PowerPoint are typically bought together as Microsoft Office. But the options for licensing it are overcomplicated. For a typical user who just wants their computer up and running to get stuff done, finding out about Office licensing can feel both daunting and a poor use of time. So let’s be as quick as we can!

Office doesn’t come with the computer

Office is not part of Windows. Nor is it usually supplied with a computer (there have been certain exceptions in the past).

You have to pay for it

Someone might have told you they have a ‘spare’ license for Office or can get one from their employer. Most times I encounter this, it might technically be possible, but it is not legal. You have to buy a license specifically for you or your family.

It costs more for businesses

If you’ve seen an advert for Office costing under £100 or for use on multiple computers, it’s eligible only for your personal, non-commercial use (like homework, noting down your recipes, or making a poster for the school fete). If you’re doing commercial work, including if you’re self-employed, you need a business license.

Shops will try to sell you a subscription

Office is available as either a one-off purchase or as a yearly subscription called Office 365. The benefit of the subscription is that you’ll always have the latest version of the software when it is released. In some cases the subscription also includes the lesser-used programs Publisher and Access.

It’s my experience that major retailers will push you towards buying Office 365, and when you see a deal at PC World (for example) to buy Office discounted along with a computer, that’s usually Office 365 too: the price is just for one year’s subscription. Retailers may not tell you that a non-subscription option is available, and I have encountered several customers who didn’t realise they’d bought something that would stop working after a year if they didn’t keep on paying.

You might not even need it

Excellent alternative word processors, spreadsheets and presentation applications are available — for free. You might not need Office, even if you have lots of files you already created with it. This is especially true if you’re working alone and not exchanging documents with co-editors:

License options

If you do want Office, here are the most popular license options, with typical prices correct as of November 2017:

UseYearly priceOne-off price
Home / student
1 computer
£59 (365 Personal)£119 (Home & Student 2016)
Home / student
5 computers (family)
£79 (365 Home)
1 user
£95 (365 Business)£229 (Home & Business 2016)

Business prices exclude VAT.

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