Fasthosts has claimed a UK first by launching a service allowing consumers and businesses to rent Microsoft Office for a small monthly fee, rather than paying a one-off lump sum to buy the suite.

Two packages are available; an Office Standard edition which includes the 2007 versions of Excel, Word, Outlook and PowerPoint; and an Office Business Edition which features the same four core apps together with Publisher, Access and InfoPath.

The standard product costs from £5 per month, while the business alternative is available from £7. However, those two prices are for the 'academic' versions of the products; the standard prices are £15 and £20 respectively. Users must go through a self-certification process to verify that they are engaged in educational activities (such as school, college, night classes) or work in the education sector to benefit from the cheaper options.

Microsoft Office 2007 review

Those interested in the services, which Fasthosts says offers users improved flexibility and the potential to make savings on the retail price of Microsoft’s Office suites, can sign up on the company's website.

Once registered, users must download the entire suite of products and ensure their PC is connected to the internet to receive updates such as security fixes. Initially, subscribers won't be able to use the Office apps unless their PC or laptop is connected to the web, but Fasthosts will soon enable the apps to be used offline too.

The company will continue to charge the monthly payment until the user unsubscribes, but there's no minimum subscription period. Once the subscription lapses, the Office apps are automatically uninstalled from the user's PC, meaning they'll need to be reinstalled if users again sign up to the subscription at a later date.

The company believes the so-called 'software-as-a-service' product could prove attractive to consumers who require Office applications for short, set periods of time, as well as businesses which employ contractors and regard the retail price of Office as too pricey.

Mark Jeffries, CTO Fasthosts Internet, said: "We will continue to develop new products that make full use of one's internet access to fulfil software and other computing needs. Individuals and businesses alike can gain from the flexibility that internet-driven software can offer."

Microsoft Office 2007 Standard Edition costs around £300, while the Pro version is available for around £360. However, home users do have a cheaper option. Microsoft is pushing Office 2007 Home and Student Edition, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote but not Outlook, to home users in the UK, and the package is available for £75 at