The term 'Microsoft Office' has become synonymous with productivity in recent years, with the likes of Word, Excel and PowerPoint among the most successful and recognisable programs in the world. 

While historically these could be downloaded with a one-off purchase from the Microsoft website, the release of Office 365 in 2011 muddied the waters. Since then, you have been able to subscribe to all the Office apps for a regular monthly fee, as opposed to having to buy each new version when it's released. 

Office 365 was rebranded to Microsoft 365 in 2020, to reflect the growing number of features that are exclusive to its subscribers. However, the main selling points of the service remain the same: unlimited access to Microsoft Office apps and free cloud storage via OneDrive. 

However, there are a myriad of different Microsoft 365 subscriptions to choose from, so it can be difficult to know which to choose. Depending on your usage, it may in fact work better to buy a one-off version of a particular program. 

Office 2019 was officially released in September 2018, and considering Microsoft's three-year release cycle we shouldn't expect a major new version until 2021. However, users of this software have not received an update since release, while Microsoft 365 subscribers typically get monthly updates. 

Find out more about Office 2019 and how it differs from Microsoft 365 throughout this article.

How to get Microsoft Office on your PC

In years gone by, the best (and only) way to get Office was to buy a CD-ROM for a one-off price and install it onto your PC or laptop. These days that would be a bit of a faff, with many laptops not even having disc drives anymore, but it was one way to ensure you had a physical backup.

Nowadays, Office is available as a download, but you can either buy it outright with a one time purchase, or as a monthly subscription. There are advantages to opting for both options.

Any Office product under the ‘365’ umbrella is subscription-based, referring to the number of days in a year. Any Office product without ‘365’ in its name is likely to be a one-time purchase - good if you only want to pay once, but you won’t be able to upgrade the software with online updates like you can with 365 subscriptions. 

There are also several different versions of Office available, and you should choose the best one for you depending on your needs. It's worth noting that while this buying guide covers every platform, Mac users might want to take a look at our sister site Macworld's specific Office for Mac buying guide.

First we will break down Office options if you are buying for personal home or student use, and then go on to the options if you are buying it for work or use within a small business.

Knowing what version of Microsoft Office you have

It's easy to check which version of Microsoft Office you currently have if you're looking to upgrade. You can do this easily by opening a program in the suite, such as Microsoft Office Word. If you have Microsoft Word 10, you should see the version name as soon as you launch the program.

For more details, click on the File tab and then Help. On the right panel, you should see the version number, product ID along with the full suite name and included programs.

What version of Microsoft Office do I have

For older versions of Microsoft Word, the navigation varies due to a difference in interface. In Microsoft Office Word 2007, click on the round Microsoft Office icon in the top left and then 'Word Options' at the bottom of the menu. Next, choose 'Resources' – the last option on the left-side panel. You should see an 'About' button at the bottom of the list which will provide you additional details about the version that you own.

In the 2003 version, go to the 'Help' option in the top menu bar, and then the 'About Microsoft Office Word'. In the pop-up, you will see the MS Office World version along with the suite it belong to, like the Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003.

Microsoft 365 (previously Office 365)

In March 2019, Microsoft announced that Office 365 would be rebranded as Microsoft 365 from 21 April. This won't change the way you use it, and actually adds a number of new features. Read all about it here

First up, the options designed for the individual consumer (i.e. probably you). There are three different options to choose from, with two pricing tiers for the Microsoft 365 subscription, and one version of Microsoft 2019 that you can buy outright (non-subscription), along with a special version for students and university staff. Let's tackle Microsoft 365 first.

The chief benefit to opting for Microsoft 365 is that you'll get regular updates for as long as you're a subscriber, with no need to jump from one version to the next every few years, and no headaches about file compatibility. You can also save your work to the cloud, similar to Google Docs. Microsoft also throws in a few extra benefits like cloud storage, free Skype minutes, and access to the tablet and smartphone apps.

Microsoft 365 comes as either Office Home or Office Personal. On 2 October 2018, Microsoft lifted the device limit on Office 365 installations, which means both Office Home or Office Personal subscribers can install the software on as many devices as needed.

The main difference is that Office Home allows up to six users, increased from five, to use the software across multiple devices at one time, whereas the Personal account is intended for a single user.

The extra £20/$30 per year or £2/$3 per month for Office Home is definitely a great deal if you choose to share the subscription costs amongst friends. The yearly subscriptions save you on two months of payment as well, compared to the monthly fee.

Microsoft 365 Family

  • For 6 users at at time across unlimited PCs/Macs, tablets and phones
  • 1TB cloud storage per user for 6 users (6TB total)
  • 60 minutes monthly Skype calls to mobile and landlines
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher (PC Only), Access (PC Only), OneDrive, Skype, Microsoft Teams
  • 1-month free trial

UK: £79.99 per year or £7.99 per month
US: $99.99 per year or $9.99 per month

Microsoft 365 Personal

  • For 1 PC/Mac across unlimited PCs/Macs, tablets and phones
  • 1TB cloud storage per user for 1 user
  • 60 minutes monthly Skype calls for 1 user
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher (PC Only), Access (PC Only), OneDrive, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Family Safety

UK: £59.99 per year or £5.99 per month
US: $69.99 per year or $6.99 per month

Microsoft 365 University

Microsoft 365 University is (as the name suggests) a special version of Microsoft 365 for students and university faculty or staff. It's almost identical to Microsoft 365 Personal, but for about the same price (slightly more in the US) you get a full four-year subscription, which is a fantastic deal. Unsurprisingly you'll need a university email address or other proof of your status to claim it.

Here's what the university subscription gets you:

  • Four-year subscription for 1 user
  • For use across multiple PCs/Macs, tablets or phones
  • 1TB cloud storage per user for 1 user
  • 60 minutes monthly Skype calls to landlines and mobile for 1 user
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, OneDrive, Skype, Microsoft Teams

UK: £59.99 for four years 
US: $79.99 for four years

If you want to look for other great student tech deals, check out the Tech Advisor student offer hub. 

Office Home and Student 2019

If you would prefer to pay a one-off price, Office Home and Student 2019 is the right package for you. You lose the automatic software updates of Microsoft 365, but that means you can technically use the software for years without being tied into a subscription.

However, there are other reasons you might want to stick to Microsoft 365.

You don't get full access to the mobile and tablet apps (anyone can still use them to view documents for free, just not edit or create them), there's no cloud storage included, and you don't get access to the full suite of Office programs included in Microsoft 365.

The latest full standalone release available to buy now is Office 2019, which includes new features such as a black theme in Word, new learning tools, new charts and timelines, new transitions in PowerPoint and loads more.

It's important to note that to run Office 2019 on your PC, you will need Windows 10. The functionality here is more limited:

  • For one PC or Mac only
  • View, share and edit documents online
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote

UK: £119.99 one-off purchase
US: $149.99 one-off purchase

Microsoft 365 Business

As well as the Home and Student Office packages discussed above, Microsoft also offers business-minded versions of its software. We'll cover the options for small businesses here, but Microsoft also offers plans for larger companies. Once again, there's a split between the 365 subscription packages and the one-off purchase version of Office 2019.

There are three main versions of Microsoft 365 Business available, each offering very different software packages, so make sure you pick the right one. Be especially mindful about Microsoft 365 Business Essentials, which doesn't actually include desktop versions of the core Office software like Word and Excel, but just Microsoft's online and cloud tools.

Microsoft 365 Business

  • One licence for 5 PCs/Macs plus 5 tablets and 5 phones per user
  • 1TB cloud storage per user
  • Up to 300 users
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, OneDrive
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint

You can also sign up for a 1-month free trial in the UK and the US.

UK: From £7.90 per user per month (annual plan) OR £9.40 per month (monthly plan)
US: From $8.25 per user per month (annual plan) OR £12.50 per month (monthly plan) 

Microsoft 365 Business Premium

  • For 5 PCs/Macs plus 5 tablets and 5 phones per user
  • 1TB cloud storage per user
  • Email hosting with 50GB mailbox and custom domain address
  • Up to 300 users
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access
  • Access to OneDrive, Exchange, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook

You can also get a free trial for the Premium version in the UK and US.

UK: From £9.40 per user per month OR £11.30 per month (monthly plan)
US: From $12.50 per user per month (annual plan) OR $15 per month (monthly plan)

Microsoft 365 Business Essentials

  • 1TB cloud storage per user
  • Email hosting with 50GB mailbox and custom domain address
  • Up to 300 users
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Video conferencing with up to 250 people
  • OneDrive, Exchange, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote

UK: From £3.80 per user per month (annual plan) OR £4.50 per user per month (monthly plan)
US: From $5.00 per user per month (annual plan) OR $6.00 per user per month (monthly plan)

Microsoft Home & Business 2019

If you'd rather not commit to an ongoing subscription for every user in your business, you might prefer the one-off small business purchase of Office Home & Business 2019.

This is limited to one user per purchase, and doesn't include many of the services or updates offered with Office 365, but it does mean you know exactly how much you're spending per user, without an open-ended subscription fee.

  • For one PC or Mac only
  • View, share and edit documents online
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook

UK: £249.99 one-off purchase 
US: $249.99 one-off purchase