For years now, Microsoft Office has become the standard software suite for consumers and businesses alike. This is with good reason – Microsoft Office continues to offer three of the most useful and recognisable software programs in the world in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

In years gone by, the best (and only) way to get Office was to buy a CD-ROM (remember those?) for a one-off price and install it onto your PC or laptop.

Nowadays, Office is available as a download, but you can either buy it outright 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-off 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.

Office 365

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 Office 365 subscription, and one version of Office 2016 that you can buy outright, along with a special version for students and university staff. Let's tackle Office 365 first.

The chief benefit to opting for Office 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. Microsoft also throws in a few extra benefits like cloud storage, free Skype minutes, and access to the tablet and smartphone apps.

Office 365 comes as either Office Home or Office Personal. The main difference here is that Home is designed for up to five users - making it ideal for a large family with multiple devices - whereas Personal is best suited to a single user.

If you need Office for you and your family, the extra £20/$30 per year or £2/$3 per month for Office Home is definitely worth it – you’ll be able to install the software on a total of 10 devices rather than two.

Office 365 Home

  • For 5 PCs/Macs plus 5 tablets and 5 phones
  • 1TB cloud storage per user for 5 users
  • 60 minutes monthly Skype calls per user for 5 users
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, OneDrive, Skype
  • 1-month free trial

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

Office 365 Personal

  • For 1 PC/Mac plus 1 tablet and 1 phone
  • 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, Access, OneDrive, Skype

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

Office 365 University

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

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

  • Four-year subscription
  • For 2 PCs/Macs or tablets and 2 phones
  • 1TB cloud storage per user for 1 user
  • 60 minutes monthly Skype calls per user for 1 user
  • Ongoing access to updates
  • Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, OneDrive, Skype

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

Office Home and Student 2016

If you would prefer to pay a one-off price for Office 2016, this is the package for you. You lose the automatic software updates of Office 365, but that means you can technically use the software for years without being tied into a subscription.

There are other downsides however. 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 Office 365.

The latest full standalone release was Office 2016, but there's a new version of Office on the way: read all about Office 2019 to find out when it's coming out, and what new features it will boast.

  • 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

Office 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 2016.

There are three main versions of Office 365 Business available, each offering very different software packages, so make sure you pick the right one. Be especially careful about Office 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.

Office 365 Business

  • 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
  • Free trial

UK: From £7.90 per user per month
US: From $8.30 per user per month

Office 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, OneDrive, Exchange, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook
  • Free trial

UK: From £9.40 per user per month
US: From $12.50 per user per month

Office 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
  • OneDrive, Exchange, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business
  • Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook

UK: From £3.80 per user per month
US: From $5.00 per user per month

Office Home & Business 2016

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 2016.

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, Outlook and OneNote

UK: £229.99 one-off purchase
US: $229.99 one-off purchase