Microsoft To Roll Out New Office 365 Subscription Plans

Versions for small businesses, consumers to be offered.

Microsoft has unveiled a new Office 365 annual subscription model for small businesses and consumers.  Rather than buying Office once every few years for a single PC or Mac, customers will be able to buy it once a year for five PCs or Macs with the subscription service. No availability date was announced.

Although buying Office every year may not sound like a good deal, Microsoft says its new subscription model includes a few perks.  Incentives include the ability to run Office on up to five PCs or Macs (though probably not both), increased Microsoft SkyDrive online storage, and the assurance of having the most up-to-date Office software. In addition, users can change which devices are running Office at any time. "Office on demand" is available -- a streaming service that lets subscribers temporarily run Office applications on nonlicensed machines -- is also available. After the session is over, Office on demand wipes itself off the machine.

Microsoft is offering a promotional deal until the subscription service is available:  Beginning October 19, purchasers of Office 2010 or Office for Mac 2011 will be entitled to receive a free one-year Office 365 subscription. The offer's end date is not clear from Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft says there will be an Office 365 Home Premium subscription for $99.99 a year. In addition, there will be an Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription for $149.99 a year. The company will introduce an Office 365 Enterprise subscription "in the coming months."

The traditional boxed model was simple enough because the Office copy was licensed to a single PC or Mac, and Microsoft plans to continue to sell boxed Office 2013 in retail outlets; the Office Home and Student 2013 will retail for about $139.99'; a boxed copy of Office Home and Business 2013 will cost about $219.99.

Retail outlets currently sell a Family Pack for Office for Mac 2011 that allows users the rights to put the Office suite on up to three computers. It's not clear if Microsoft's new subscription model will do away with this Family Pack offering in the near future, but it seems likely.

Microsoft's Office subscription model may appeal to households with multiple computers because of the five-machine install permissions. Small businesses also get the five-machine install privilege, but Microsoft's announcement states that "the new Office 365 for Small Business Premium is designed for organizations with 1-10 employees." It's not clear from Microsoft's announcement what will happen if an organization needs to scale up its Office 365 subscription licensing.

Subscription Differences

There are differences between the two subscription offerings. For example, Office 365 Home Premium includes Word, Excel, Access, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher. Office 365 Small Business Premium includes these applications as well as Lync. Access, OneNote, and Publisher are PC only applications; they will not run on Macs.

Storage options differ as well. With Office 365 Home Premium, users get 20 GB of extra SkyDrive storage. For Office 365 Small Business Premium, Microsoft doesn't offer SkyDrive storage, but it does provide "10 GB of professional-grade cloud storage for the organization plus 500 MB per user." Office 365 Small Business Premium users also receive 25 GB of Outlook mailbox storage.

Office 365 Small Business Premium subscribers will be able to use high-definition video conferencing for online meetings using the Lync client. Additionally, Microsoft is including tools to build a public Web site with "no additional hosting fees." Details about this public Web site weren't revealed.

One of the standout features between the two subscriptions concerns Microsoft's Skype voice-over-IP service. Office 365 Home Premium subscribers receive Skype calling minutes. However, Microsoft's announcement added a caveat that Skype is only available in some countries and that some numbers will be excluded from the free-minutes allowance. Skype minutes are not offered to Office 365 Small Business Premium subscribers.

Office 365 Small Business Premium subscribers get shared calendars, "professional" storage, high-definition videoconferencing, and Web site creation. None of those features is available in the Office 365 Home Premium offering.

Windows RT tablet or PC buyers soon will get Office Home and Student 2013 at no additional cost, Microsoft has indicated. Whether those users would pay for Office suite upgrades isn't yet known.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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