What Mac users need to know about Office 365

office365logoThe quick answer: not much. If you already own Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac, there is nothing new for you here. You already have the most current version of Microsoft Office for the Macintosh.

If that’s all you wanted to know, you’re done here (at least until the next major upgrade comes out). Feel free to check out the new releases on Spotify.

However, if you have Microsoft Office/Mac 2008 or earlier, or don’t own MS Office at all – and Apple’s iWork suite or Google Docs just isn’t doing it for you – or you are in a mixed Mac/Windows household, Microsoft Office 365 could be in your immediate future.

Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription service for Microsoft Office Products: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook for Mac and Windows – plus the Windows-only applications Access, Publisher, and OneNote. Much like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, instead of buying the box, you lease the software. In this case, for $9.95/month or $99.95/year.

Why would you want to lease MS Office? A few reasons.

One: you never have to worry about not having the latest version. All upgrades are automatically forwarded to you. Not just the piddly “security releases” that seem to come out every other week, but brand new features as soon as they are developed. No more waiting for major rollouts.

Two: while most folks will hardly notice $9.95 flying into the ether each month, many will hesitate forking over $140.00 – $400.00, depending on the suite makeup, every two years or so. That’s for each computer you own. So, from a cash flow standpoint, it’s easier to handle.

Three: in addition to the software, 365 subscribers also receive 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month which you can use from any device you have with a Skype account (it doesn’t have to have the Office apps installed on it). Plus you get a 20 Gb bump of storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud service. That’s in addition to any storage you may already have. Those two alone, if you take advantage of them, cover your ten bucks. There’s also a ton of sharing, collaboration, and syncing features; useful on personal and professional levels.

Four (the best part): one Office 365 subscription covers you for up to five devices (count ’em – five!). Mac and/or Windows plus “select mobile devices”. Mix and match. And it includes all the applications stated above (platform restrictions apply) – not just the Word/Excel/Powerpoint trio most usually get. So if your Windows-using spouse ever wanted to take a shot at database design with Access, here’s the chance.

Here’s where it gets a bit touchy for Mac users

Microsoft Work 2013Purchasing a Microsoft Office 365 subscription will get Microsoft Windows users the brand new Office 2013 suite, with all it’s nifty bells and whistles – and there are some real nice ones.

As I hinted at the start, currently Mac users get the 28-month old Microsoft Office 2011 (released October 26, 2010). This little tidbit is not immediately evident on Microsoft’s Office 365 site.

In fact, to the casual reader, it appears that Microsoft is offering the latest and greatest to everyone. Sadly, not so. Not yet.

Also not evident, is that as of the release of Office 365, Microsoft has eliminated the multi-license versions of its Mac and Windows box offerings. Prior to 365, a purchase of certain versions of the Home/Student or Home/Business flavors would allow you to legally install Office on two or three computers. That option is now gone. One box. One computer. No exceptions. The boxed versions are also about $20.00 more expensive than they were prior to the 365 release. It’s easy to see Microsoft really wants you to go the 365 route.

Bottom Line: if you don’t yet own Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac, an Office 365 subscription is a nice deal – especially if you have more than one computer (or other Office-compatible mobile device). If you do already own Office 2011, and are flying solo .. well .. you can hold off a little while longer. Microsoft has got to come out with a new Mac version sooner or later, right?