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No, Microsoft Office is Not Free Anymore

As a tech expert who has been using Microsoft Office for decades, one question I hear constantly nowadays is "Is Microsoft Office free anymore?" The short answer is no, Microsoft Office is not free for use on your desktop or laptop computer. Microsoft moved their Office suite to a subscription model starting with Office 365. This means you have to pay a monthly or yearly fee to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office apps on your PC or Mac.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain exactly why Microsoft Office is no longer free, the different subscription options available, and some smart ways to get Office for the lowest cost. I‘ve been using Office since the early 90s, so I can provide tons of insider tips and expertise on the best way to access Word, Excel, Outlook and more in the modern subscription era!

The Demise of "Free for Life" Office

Microsoft first launched Office way back in 1989, and for many years it was the dominant productivity suite that pretty much defined personal computing. Buying a copy of Office to install on your new PC was basically a rite of passage. And once you purchased it, that copy of Word, Excel, etc. was yours to use forever. New versions came out every 3 years or so, but you could stick with your current version as long as you wanted.

Those days are now gone. Here are some key events in the demise of "free for life" Office:

  • October 2010 – Office 365 launched, offering Office as a subscription service
  • January 2013 – Office 2013 requires a subscription for business use
  • September 2015 – Office 2016 requires a subscription for business use
  • January 2018 – Office 2019 launches for one-time purchase, but only for commercial customers
  • March 2021 – Office 2021 launches for one-time purchase, but only for commercial customers

Now Office is only available via subscription for most consumers. As an individual, your options are pretty much limited to:

  1. Buy an Office 365 subscription
  2. Use Office web apps for free
  3. Use a non-Microsoft office suite

Next I‘ll break down exactly what each of those options looks like, so you can decide the best way to get Office in the modern era.

Office 365 Subscription Options for Consumers

An Office 365 subscription gives you full, installed desktop apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more that are always up to date. Here are the key consumer subscription options:

Office 365 Personal

  • $69.99 per year
  • Install on 1 PC or Mac
  • Install on 1 tablet
  • Install on 1 phone
  • 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage

Office 365 Home

  • $99.99 per year
  • Install on up to 5 PCs/Macs
  • Install on up to 5 tablets
  • Install on up to 5 phones
  • 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage per user (up to 6 users)

Office 365 Family

  • $99.99 per year
  • Install on up to 6 PCs/Macs
  • Install on up to 6 tablets
  • Install on up to 6 phones
  • 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage per user (up to 6 users)
  • Comes with premium family safety features

As you can see, Office 365 Home offers the best value for individuals and families with multiple devices. The ability to install Office on up to 5 PCs and Macs for just $100/year makes it a pretty compelling option compared to paying $70 for just one device.

How Office 365 Stacks Up to the Competition

Office 365 offers best-in-class desktop apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that are preferred by many businesses. But Google Workspace and Zoho Office Suite are top competitors that also offer excellent productivity apps. Here‘s a quick comparison of the key differences between the suites:

Office 365 Google Workspace Zoho Office Suite
Price for Individuals $69.99 – $99.99 per year $0 – $12 per month $3 – $8 per month
Top Apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint Docs, Sheets, Slides Writer, Sheet, Show
Web App Functionality Full featured Full featured More basic
Desktop App Availability Windows, Mac, iOS, Android None, web-only Windows, Mac, Linux
Email/Calendar Outlook Gmail, Google Calendar Zoho Mail, Calendar
Video Conferencing Teams Meet Cliq
Cloud Storage OneDrive Drive Zoho Docs

For people who need the full functionality of desktop apps like Word and Excel, Office 365 remains the most robust option. But Google Workspace and Zoho provide excellent free web-based office suites for lighter needs.

Just How Popular is Office 365 These Days?

Office 365 has absolutely taken over the world of office suites in recent years. Just look at some of these stats:

  • Over 300 million active commercial monthly users of Office 365 as of March 2022
  • Over 200 million monthly active individual subscribers to consumer plans
  • 90% of Fortune 500 companies use Office 365
  • Total revenue from Office 365 in 2022 was over $35 billion

Clearly, Microsoft‘s shift to subscription services has paid off big time, with Office 365 becoming the dominant office suite platform globally across businesses and consumers.

For individuals, the adoption is being driven largely by the low $100 annual fee for Office 365 Home, which lets families load Office on PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones for sharing among members. Microsoft keeps users hooked in with frequent updates and new features added over time.

While you can no longer buy Office outright, Microsoft is hoping the always-updated, cross-device nature of Office 365 will keep you subscribing year after year.

Recent Office Developments – Microsoft 365 and Office LTSC

As if Office licensing wasn‘t complicated enough already, Microsoft has continued expanding options:

Microsoft 365 – This bundles Windows 10 or 11, Office 365, and enterprise management and security tools into a single subscription package primarily aimed at businesses. But home versions like Microsoft 365 Personal and Family plans are also available.

Office LTSC – Short for Office Long Term Servicing Channel, this is essentially the new name for traditionally licensed, non-subscription versions of Office. Office LTSC 2021 is the latest and is only available to commercial and government customers. There is no consumer version of Office LTSC.

So in summary, Microsoft 365 takes the Office 365 concept but packages it with Windows OS licenses and more features. And Office LTSC continues the old-school "one-time purchase" model, but only for commercial use.

Microsoft‘s Grand Plan to Transition the World to Subscriptions

It‘s evident that Microsoft‘s strategic move to subscriptions has allowed the company to protect its dominant market share while transitioning to a more predictable revenue stream. Here‘s some analysis on why Microsoft shifted to this model:

  • Discourages piracy – Harder to pirate a constantly changing subscription service
  • Guaranteed recurring revenue – Steady income that investors love to see
  • Flexibility on pricing – Can charge per user, adjust plans, upsell features
  • Motivates ongoing development – Must continuously update and improve apps to keep users paying month after month
  • Leverages the cloud – Integrates services like OneDrive for continuous cross-device access
  • Easier administration for IT – Centralized management, less time spent on upgrades

By only offering Office LTSC to commercial customers, Microsoft leaves no option for perpetual licenses among everyday consumers. We have successfully transitioned to the world of Software as a Service whether we like it or not!

Tips for Getting the Best Deal on Office 365

Here are some of my top tips for getting Office 365 at the lowest price point:

  • Buy Office 365 Home – Best value with licenses for up to 5 computers and 6 mobile devices
  • Look for sales around the holidays – Occasional 10-15% discounts pop up
  • Buy discounted gift cards – Reputable resellers like Raise often sell gift cards at a discount
  • Use freetrial version first – Test it out and cancel before the month is up if not needed
  • Consider cheaper alternatives – Google Workspace or Zoho for basic web-based needs
  • Use free online Office apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint all have free web versions
  • Check for student discounts – Office 365 is often discounted or free for students

The days of getting Office for a one-time cost are history. But with the right subscription plan and a little bargain hunting, you can still get Office 365 at a reasonable price.

Free Online Office Web Apps Allow Basic Editing

If you truly don‘t want to pay anything to use Office apps, Microsoft does provide free online web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint at office.com. The catch is you need a Microsoft account and internet connection to access them. Functionality is also more limited compared to full desktop apps. But for basic viewing and editing of documents, the free online Office apps work perfectly well.

Caution Advised for Suspicious "Lifetime License" Offers

Now that Microsoft has moved to a subscription model, you may come across deals online claiming to offer Office "lifetime licenses" for outrageously cheap prices like $39 or $49. These are NOT legitimate licenses sanctioned by Microsoft in any way and are usually abusing some sort of licensing loophole or worse.

Microsoft currently does not allow Office licensing for perpetuity in consumer channels. I strongly advise avoiding these lifetime license offers as they are shady at best and could put you in legal jeopardy for piracy. Stick with official Office channels for obtaining legal licensing.

FreeOffice – a Legitimate Free Desktop Office Suite

If you need desktop office apps but don‘t want to pay for Office 365, one 100% free alternative to check out is FreeOffice by SoftMaker. This gives you free versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint equivalents for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. I‘ve used it quite a bit myself and find it gets the job done for most basic office needs. Of course it lacks some of the advanced features of Microsoft Office but is great for students, families and home users on a budget.

The Final Verdict – Is Microsoft Office Free?

To go back to our original question – no, Microsoft Office is definitively no longer free, at least for full use of the desktop application suite. Here‘s a quick summary:

  • Office 365 subscription – Only way to get full Office desktop apps now for consumers
  • Office Online web apps – Free but limited functionality requiring internet
  • Non-Microsoft alternatives – Some decent free options like FreeOffice or OpenOffice
  • One-time purchase – Not available for everyday consumers anymore

While it‘s disappointing that the era of "free for life" Office has ended, Microsoft has done a brilliant job getting customers hooked on the always up-to-date nature of Office 365. And the reality is you can still get access to Word, Excel, and other Office apps free through either the online web versions or free competing suites. There are still ways for frugal consumers to avoid paying for Office thanks to healthy competition in the office suite market.

Hopefully this guide has provided you with everything you need to know to evaluate your options and get access to Microsoft Office in the modern age. Let me know if you have any other questions!