Microsoft Office: purchase, subscription or free?

Office 365 is the office in the browser, right? But why is it no longer free? And what are the Office apps for when Office is already running on the PC? Questions and misunderstandings from many users. We help you understand Microsoft Office.

Office Online, Office 2016 and 2019, Office 365 – sorry, that means now

Microsoft 365
– and the Office apps for mobile devices. Microsoft is really not making it easy for users to look through the purchase, subscription and free use of its office software and to choose the right package. We explain the differences here and present free alternatives for installation and use via a browser. Because Microsoft Office has long been the standard for word processing, e-mail, spreadsheets, presentations and much more in companies, it is also ideal for use in private environments. Why should you familiarize yourself with other programs at home, deal with compatibility problems or forego important functions? Beyond the investment, there is indeed little to be said against the established office software.

On the other hand, it is more difficult to decide on the “right” variant. For a long time, a new version of the program came onto the market every few years, usually named with the year of publication: Office 2003, 2007, 2010 and so on. These were each available in different editions with a different scope of functions: for example Home and Student, Home and Business and Professional. What all versions and editions up to Office 2013 had in common, however, was that they regularly received and updated new functions via service packs.

Differences between Office 2016/2019 and Microsoft 365

The different licenses are barely recognizable when starting an Office application: Above the Word start logo with a Microsoft 365 subscription, below that of the Office 2019 purchased version.


The different licenses are barely recognizable when starting an Office application: Above the Word start logo with a Microsoft 365 subscription, below that of the Office 2019 purchased version.

With Office 2016 and the current 2019 package, Microsoft has changed the procedure: Beyond the security patches, users of these purchased versions do not receive any major function updates: You have to be content with the range of functions that is current when the software is released if you opt for a one-time edition Acquisition decides. It is important that patches for the older 2016 and the current 2019 version are only provided for just under five years: Support for both ends

in October 2025

Microsoft charges 149 euros for Office 2019 Home and Student (without Outlook), 299 euros for Home and Business and 579 euros for the Pro version. In the free trade, the same software is already available from reputable retailers for half, but cheap offers for five or ten euros are hardly legal!

In addition to this traditional office suite, which you buy once and then install it on your PC, Microsoft also offers its Office as a subscription. You pay on an annual or monthly basis for as long as you use the software. This is cheaper for short-term use than the comparatively expensive purchase, but the differences go further. Subscribers to the software, which was renamed from Office 365 to Microsoft 365 a few months ago, keep getting new functions. This can best be illustrated with an example: When Office 2019 was first released, the version was initially identical to the Office 365 that was current at the same time. In the meantime, however, Office / Microsoft 365 has been expanded several times, so the range of functions is drifting further and further apart. Office 2019 buyers will also need to purchase the new package again if they want to upgrade to a new version later. Microsoft 365 always has the latest version.

Microsoft doesn't make the choice between the various Office packages easy: two of the subscriptions recently renamed


Microsoft doesn’t make the choice between the various Office packages easy: two of the subscriptions recently renamed “Microsoft 365”, Office 2019 on the right for one-time purchase.

Essentially, Microsoft 365 currently represents Office 2019 with a few additional functions. In contrast, it differs fundamentally from Microsoft’s (free) web version “Office Online”. The table below gives you a quick overview.

Microsoft 365: More functions, more devices, more cloud storage

Office 2016/2019 and Microsoft 365 also differ in terms of the functions that have since been added, such as more artificial intelligence (AI), and the payment method. Subscribers have a TByte (1000 GB) of storage space in the Microsoft cloud available to subscribers from the already free five to 15 GByte at Onedrive. Especially in view of the annual subscription fees of 69 euros for a license (Microsoft 365 Single) or 99 euros for Microsoft 365 Family (maximum of six people), this is cheap because competing services like Dropbox charge similar amounts for online storage alone. If you book Microsoft 365 for individual months, this is a bit more expensive: seven euros for the single license, ten euros for the family license.

Microsoft Web Office (


Microsoft Web Office (“Office Online”) is free, but offers significantly fewer functions than the Office 2019 software or the Microsoft 365 subscription.

Although you can still set the standard memory for documents, tables and presentations as you like and thus also locally with all versions, the preset OneDrive makes sense in the 365 subscription. Filing in the cloud makes it easier to work together on shared Office files, and Microsoft 365 saves all content automatically in real time and no longer just at regular intervals. In addition, there are functions that are only possible online: These include translation, looking up at Wikipedia or text recognition (OCR).

After all, Office 2019 can only be installed on a PC or Mac, while Microsoft 365 can be used on all (!) Own devices, according to the company. Five of them can be registered at the same time, with “365 Family” this also applies to every user. And while mobile devices with Android or iOS are not included in the purchasing office, smartphones and tablets can be used without restriction on a subscription.


Subscribers need an Internet connection to install the Office applications on their Windows PC. The same applies to documents in the cloud, certain online functions and the license control required once a month. Otherwise, however, you can also work offline with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook from Microsoft 365. Locally stored files are synchronized as soon as you are back on the network.

Office Online, Google Docs, Apps and alternative Office suites

In the Chrome browser, Google Docs offers the option of saving documents that are initially only available in the cloud on the PC and thus also editing them offline.


In the Chrome browser, Google Docs offers the option of saving documents that are initially only available in the cloud on the PC and thus also editing them offline.

This is naturally different with Office applications that run exclusively in the web browser and do not use any installed software: An Internet connection is required not only for e-mails, but also for the other Office applications. Next

Office Online from Microsoft
represents the colloquial ”

Google Docs
“Called Web Office from Google is the best-known alternative. In addition to word processing (” Docs “), it offers a spreadsheet, presentation and form software.

The web applications from Microsoft and Google have a lot in common: They are free, personal files are stored in the cloud (Onedrive or Google Drive) and are therefore available across all devices. They can also be shared with other people and edited together. Compared to the “big” office packages that are subject to a fee, various functions are missing, but they are perfectly adequate for many private purposes. At the same time, the reduction to the essentials offers the advantage that even beginners can quickly get to grips with the browser applications.

However, the online requirement for free use is not very strict. Google opened up about a setting in its

Chrome browser
the possibility of saving the Office files locally on the PC. These can then be edited with Chrome without internet access and are automatically synchronized again as soon as the computer is back on the network. To do this, install the extension in the Google browser

Google Docs Offline
, click on the three dots for the file of your choice and slide the switch to the right next to “Available offline”.

At Microsoft, using offline is more complicated than Office apps here

in the Windows app stores
, Android and iOS are also available for offline use. However, these can only be used free of charge for mobile devices with a screen size of up to 10.1 inches. While the size limit for smartphones is not a problem, you have to pay on some tablets such as the iPad Pro.

Theoretically, Office apps can be used free of charge on the smartphone using the keyboard and mouse and the screen can be displayed on the large PC monitor via a Chromecast stick, but the functionality of the mobile apps remains limited. There are the free software alternatives like

Libre Office

Apache Open Office
and limited too

Softmaker Free Office

Conclusion: Microsoft 365 is suitable for families and multiple devices

And what is the best office for you? We cannot do the answer for you, it depends on your preference. If you know the Microsoft programs, need their functionality, or just don’t want to get used to them, stick with them. Because of the low price, Office 365 is particularly attractive for families, and each of the up to six users receives one TB of cloud storage on Onedrive. However, the cloud and AI-supported convenience functions mean that Microsoft can see into your file contents, which, by the way, also applies to the free Office web services.

If you don’t want that, you are better off installing office software. It doesn’t have to be from Microsoft. Libre Office, Open Office and Free Office are free. Softmaker also offers a good commercial alternative: The current Office 2021 costs just under 80 euros, the license is valid for up to five private PCs in the same household or one business computer.


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