Word, PowerPoint and Excel – what can you do with them? Well, that depends on where and how you get them. There are different bundles of applications, different services included and even different application features in Office 2016, Office 365 and Office Online.
In this article, we're going to take a close look at the nuances of these different versions of Office, as well as the major differences between these offerings. So if you've ever been confused about how Microsoft has positioned these products, read on and be enlightened…
- Also check out: Office 2011 for Mac vs Office 2016 for Mac
Office 2016 is the new version of the desktop Office suite, for both Windows and Mac OS X; the first time the two platforms have been in sync. You can buy Office 2016 on its own, for a one-time price that gives you a licence you can carry on using as long as you like, for Windows or the Mac, but when the next version of Office comes out you'll have to pay again to get it, and you won't get the new features that come out for the different Office applications before the next version – just the security updates.
On the Mac, Office 2016 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote – if you want Outlook for the Mac, you'll have to get an Office 365 subscription (which also gives you the Windows versions of Publisher and Access 2016).
On Windows, you can choose between Office Home and Student 2016, which again includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, or Office Home and Business 2016, which adds Outlook. That's what you need if you want to legally use Office for work.
If you want the extra enterprise features in Outlook and Excel, like being able to import data from a wider range of databases, you'll need to get Office Professional 2016, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
Visio and Project are part of the Office family and there are Office 2016 versions of both, but you buy them separately. If you have the Office 2013 versions, you can't just keep using them because they don't work once you install Office 2016 – but you can contact Microsoft for a free upgrade. You can also get a free upgrade for Outlook, Publisher or Access 2013 if you have the standalone versions of those and you've bought a version of Office 2016 that doesn't upgrade them for you.
Office 365 started out as being Microsoft's online service for businesses, to run email, communications and file sharing in the cloud, which also included licences for the desktop Office software, but it now includes all Microsoft's Office subscription services, for consumers as well as businesses.
You can pay monthly or yearly, you automatically get new features as they're released and the next version of Office when it comes out, and if you use the mobile version of Office on a device with a screen bigger than 10.1-inches (whether that's a Windows 10 desktop or an iPad Pro), you can edit documents as well as viewing them. You get cloud storage and other benefits, but if you stop paying your subscription, you stop being able to use Office.
Office 365 is ideal if you have multiple machines at work and at home, or if your family has several computers, or if you might want to switch between a Mac and a PC, because even the consumer subscriptions cover all of that.
Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home give you the same software: the Windows or Mac versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, plus Publisher and Access for Window, along with 1TB of OneDrive space and monthly credits to make 60 minutes of calls on Skype.
The difference is that with the Personal subscription you can install the software on one PC or Mac and on one tablet and one phone, but Office 365 Home lets you put the same software on five Macs or PCs and on five tablets and phones – you can use all the installs yourself, or you can share them with family or friends (who each get 1TB of cloud storage space and Skype credits).
There are two Office 365 subscriptions for businesses with up to 300 users, and you can still pay for them month by month. Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium both include Office 2016 – the Windows or Mac versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, and Publisher, and each person can put them on up to five PCs or Macs – the Office apps on five phones and tablets per user, and 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage. The difference is that the Business Premium subscription also has Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business Online.
Larger businesses will want the Office 365 enterprise plans, which include more security and information management tools, and which you have to pay for on a yearly basis. Again, the difference is which of the cloud services are included. Both include Office 2016 – the Windows or Mac versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access, on up to five PCs or Macs per user, as well as the Office apps on five phones and tablets per user. Office 365 ProPlus has 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user; an Enterprise E3 tenant has all that, plus Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business Online.
There are also Office 365 subscriptions for business that only include the Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business Online services, but not Office 2016, for companies that already have Office licences, or who are happy using the Office Online web apps instead. These are Office 365 Business Essentials, for up to 300 users, and the E1 enterprise plan for larger companies.
The free web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote don't have all the features of the Office 2016 applications, and there will be some complex documents that you can't open with them, but they have enough tools for everyday document creation and editing. PowerPoint Online recently added the format painter tool, for instance.
Often, new tools show up in Office Online first, like the Tell Me search function that helps you find which features you can use for a specific task; that's now in Office 2016. The web version of Sway is very similar to the Windows and iOS versions.
The Office Online apps also save your documents automatically, so you won't lose everything you've typed if you lose your internet connection.
Anyone with a Microsoft account can use Office Online, and the documents will be saved in OneDrive (you can sync them to your computer or download them individually). Office 365 business users also get access to the Office Online apps, but their documents live in OneDrive for Business.
Businesses who run their own Office servers, like Exchange and SharePoint, can use the Office Online Server to run their own version of Office Online (before Office 2016 that was called the Office Web Apps Server).
Outlook Web Access (which Microsoft confusingly refers to as Outlook, because it has the same features and interface as Outlook itself) isn't part of Office Online. That's because it is actually part of Exchange, so you get it either by running your own Exchange server or by using Exchange Online in the Office 365 plans that include email.
When you click the Mail, Calendar and People links at Office Online, you'll go to Outlook Web Access if you sign in with a business Office 365 account, or to Outlook.com if you sign in with a Microsoft account.