Posey's Tips & Tricks

What Happens If You Can't Get a Perpetual Microsoft Office License?

It's getting harder to buy standalone Office licenses from Microsoft. Will a purely subscription-based Office model be worth it for users, or are there better alternatives in the market?

Microsoft recently decided that it will no longer sell perpetual licenses for Office Professional Plus 2019 and Office Home and Business 2019 as part of its Home Use Program. The program, which had allowed people to buy deeply discounted copies of Office for use on their personal computers, will be shifting to a subscription-only licensing model.

The company announced the change in an update to this FAQ, which now says the following under the "What has changed" section:

Microsoft is updating the Home Use Program to offer discounts on the latest and most up to date products such as Office 365, which is always up to date with premium versions of Office apps across all your devices. Office Professional Plus 2019 and Office Home and Business 2019 are no longer available as Home Use Program offers.

When you also consider that Microsoft is rebranding the Web version of Office from "Office Online" to simply "Office," it becomes quite clear what direction Microsoft is planning to go. It seems that Microsoft is looking to a future when all Office licenses are subscription-based and Office is entirely online (with the possibility of locally installed software still existing, but requiring Internet connectivity in order to function). Of course, all I can do is guess as to Microsoft's plans for the future, but a subscription-only model that requires Internet connectivity seems like a safe guess.

Personally, I'm not a fan of software subscriptions. I would much rather pay for a license upfront and be done with the cost. Who needs the hassle of having to manage an account or shelling out a subscription fee month after month?

Of course, Microsoft is quick to point out that the benefit to subscription-based licensing is that with the subscription comes a steady stream of new features. In all fairness, this isn't just marketing hype. In recent years, I have really been impressed by the way that Microsoft continues to make Office 365 better by adding new features. Today, Office 365 barely resembles what it was back in 2012 when I first subscribed.

Even so, I tend to find the new features that Microsoft builds for Office 365 apps such as SharePoint and Exchange to be far more compelling than the new features that it introduces for Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I just can't help but wonder whether those new features are enough to warrant the cost of a long-term subscription.

Everyone uses Office in a different way, and there is a not a doubt in my mind that there will be power users who truly benefit from whatever Office feature Microsoft dreams up next. In my case, however, I tend to mostly stick to using the basic features. I can only think of one feature that has been introduced in the last 10 years that I use on a regular basis: inking.

I mostly use Office to write articles and build PowerPoint presentations. Although I am using Office 2019 to write this column, I doubt that the writing experience would be much different if I were using Office 2003.

If my sole reason for subscribing to Office 365 was that I wanted to get access to the Office applications (Word, Excel, et cetera), I would probably discontinue the subscription and either purchase a perpetually licensed copy of Office or make the switch to OpenOffice. However, I use Office 365 for much more than just the Office apps, so I am not planning to abandon my subscription.

However, for those who want Office but hate being locked into a subscription plan, OpenOffice can be an attractive alternative. There is no licensing fee associated with using the software, and you don't have to sign up for any kind of subscription.

I haven't tried to do a feature-by-feature comparison between Office and OpenOffice, but my impression is that OpenOffice has most of the same features as Office, although I am sure that there are probably some features that are unique to the Microsoft platform. OpenOffice is also compatible with Office documents. If you look at Figure 1, you can see just how similar OpenOffice Writer is to Word.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1: OpenOffice Writer looks a lot like Microsoft Word.

Now, don't misunderstand me: I'm not recommending that you abandon your Office licenses and switch to OpenOffice. All I am saying is that if Microsoft does eventually switch to a subscription-only licensing model, and you can't justify the ongoing subscription fees, then OpenOffice might be a possible alternative, especially for home users.

In corporate environments, it is probably best to stick to using Office. After all, it has been specifically engineered to work with the back-end systems (such as Windows Server and Active Directory) that most organizations probably already have in place.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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