Data Doctors: Microsoft Office deals? Buyer beware!

Q: I bought a new laptop and it didn’t come with Microsoft Office, so I’m trying to figure out the best place to buy it. Why does the price vary so much?

A: When it comes to productivity software, Microsoft Office is the de facto standard, but the common misconception is that it’s part of Microsoft Windows, which it’s not.

In the past, your only option was to buy the program on discs and install them to your computer’s hard drive.

Today, not only has Microsoft changed the way you can buy the program, they also added new names for the product.

Microsoft 365

The software industry has been pushing its customers toward software that lives in the cloud, because it provides a lot of benefits for both the developers and their customers.

Once you convert to cloud-based software, you are no longer beholden to a specific computer, so you can use it from any Internet-connected computer in the world. You no longer have to worry about installing updates and the associated data is backed up for you.

The downside to cloud-based software is that you typically end up renting it instead of buying it, so it becomes an ongoing annual expense for as long as you want to use it.

The newly named subscription version, Microsoft 365, which used to be called Office 365 starts at $70 per year for one user or $100 per year for up to 6 users.

This option also installs software to your computer, so it can be used with or without an internet connection.

Microsoft does offer a free online-only version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

Using this option requires an internet connection and will limit some of the features available in the full versions.

Traditional Option

If you prefer to purchase the software and install it on a single computer, the most current version is Office 2019.

The Home & Student version of Office 2019 can be purchased directly from Microsoft for $150, while some resellers like Walmart and NewEgg offer it for $120 – $130.

Any new feature updates that are created for online users won’t be available to those that choose this option, but security updates will be provided.

Really Cheap Versions

A search for any version of Office will result in an endless number of really low priced options that can range from legit software to fraudulent volume licenses that belong to a large corporation.

It’s critically important that you know and trust the reseller because there are so many shady offers, especially when it comes to digital downloads.

You may see offers for as little as $10 or $20 to download Office, which should be an obvious red flag as outlined in this KrebsonSecurity post.

Some third parties are selling OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions of the program that were intended to be sold with a computer and come with no support from Microsoft. This is a nontransferable license that is tied to a specific machine once it’s registered, so again trust in the reseller is critical.

When the price is significantly lower than what the mainstream software retailers offer, it’s always buyer beware!

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