Microsoft Office 365 buying guide for businesses

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We offer a full guide of Office for business purchasing options, reviewing its 2016 and 365 versions

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If you've ever worked in an office, you'll probably have used Microsoft Office in some form.

Microsoft provides one of the most business-ready packages out there and offers several different versions of its productivity suite.

Read next: G Suite vs Office 365: What's best for business users?

In fact, Microsoft Office houses three of the most useful and recognisable programs in the world: Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Before the introduction of the cloud, Office was available on a one-off payment basis and installed on to your PC from a CD-ROM.

Now, Microsoft has adopted an almost entirely download-only structure, available to buy outright or on a monthly subscription basis.

To make things simpler, any Microsoft product under the '365' umbrella is subscription based, and Office products without ‘365’ attached will most likely to be available as a one-off purchase and download.

Read on for a Microsoft Office buying guide for businesses, including pricing, features and pros and cons.

Which Microsoft Office plan should I use for my businesses?

The best of Microsoft's business offerings come under the '365' umbrella, we think, with Microsoft Home & Business 2016 and Office Professional 2016 being the exceptions to the rule.

Most modern businesses operate in the cloud, whether partially or totally connected. So Microsoft Office 365 is the best way to go if you are buying today.

You can opt for Office 365 businessOffice 365 Business Premium or Office 365 Business Essentials, all come packed with Microsoft's staple applications and lots of online storage. 

Office 365 Business will probably be the best fit for small-to-medium sized businesses. It comes feature-rich, including the full suite of online Office programmes along with cloud file storage and sharing capabilities. And a desktop version of the Office software comes included too.

However, this version of Office 365 does not include business email hosting, which for some could be a major drawback if you are looking for a one-stop-shop approach to business software.

One license covers five phones, five tablets, and five PCs or Macs per user, with an impressive 1TB of OneDrive storage. And like all Microsoft Office 365 plans, there is a 300 user limit. 

The jump from being an Office 365 Business user to an Office 365 Business Premium user isn't massive, but if you rely on video conferencing and cross-company collaboration, Premium won't disappoint. 

In fact, Premium users will be able to take advantage of a company-wide intranet and team sites through SharePoint, online and video conferencing for up to 250 people, a 'hub' on Microsoft Teams and full access to the Yammer collaboration tool.

Read next: Windows 10 for business: Pros and cons for enterprise users

You'll also get everything that the Office 365 Business plan has, plus Outlook email hosting, Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Bookings for online meeting scheduling.

Because most of us are used to the Microsoft interface, the transition time for teams to pick up how its applications work is minimal.

Even if you're a life-long Google user, Office 365 is pretty straightforward to pick up. And although Excel is a beast with the power for extensive number crunching, if you're after a lightweight spreadsheet app with advanced collaboration capability, I think Google wins in the usability stakes.

Then there is Office 365 Business Essentials, which only provides email hosting and web versions of the Office applications. So for those wanting a lightweight productivity suite plus solid collaboration features, this plan is worth your consideration.

Perhaps best suited for smaller businesses or startups, Office 365 Business Essentials comes with 1TB of OneDrive storage, online and video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people, a hub with Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Microsoft Planner.

Obviously, the plan you choose will depend on your business needs. If you thrive in a collaborative environment but prefer a desktop Office suite, you should choose Office 365 Business Premium. But if your budget is small and you only need light Office 365 use, I'd go for the Business Essentials package. You can always upgrade at a later date as your business grows. 

And if you know you want Office 365, but don't know which plan to go for, stick with Office 365 business. It is straight down the middle and should meet the requirements of most businesses.

Read next: Microsoft launches training programme to boost digital skills in the UK

It's probably unlikely that as a business user you'll opt for the Office 2016 as it means you'll have to pay in one lump sum. And if you've got more than one PC, it's not a sound investment. 

However, there are micro-businesses and freelancers out there that do just run off one machine, and by choosing either Office Home and Business 2016 or Office Professional 2016 they can take advantage of the full Microsoft Office experience.

Plus, if you work with lots of data or in a numbers-heavy role, the desktop version of Excel is still pretty hard to beat. 

How much does Microsoft Office cost?

Office 365 Business Essentials from £3.80 per user per month.

Office 365 Business from £7.90 per user per month.
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher

Office 365 Business Premium from £9.40 per user per month.
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, Skype

Office Home and Business 2016 for £229.99
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote

Office Professional 2016 for £389.99
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher

This last two come with a higher price-tag as they are one-off purchases.

Microsoft Office 2019: Release date & features

If you are one of those people that don't want to be tied to a subscription and don't want to lose out on Microsoft's top Office functionality, you're in luck, as Microsoft has announced that it will update its non-cloud version of Office in 2018. 

This update will be called Microsoft Office 2019 and according to Microsoft will be available in the second half of 2018. 

At the moment, there is no confirmed price for the new version of Office, but we can probably take the price of the current Office as a guide. 

Preview builds normally precede the release, so we can expect for these to become available in mid-2018.

With Microsoft keeping things under its hat, for the time being, we've only got a small amount of information to go off. 

However, the general manager of Microsoft Office, Jared Sparato, did confirm the following details on the official Office blog:

"Office 2019 will add new user and IT capabilities for customers who aren’t yet ready for the cloud.

For example, new and improved inking features—like pressure sensitivity, tilt effects, and ink replay—will allow you to work more naturally. New formulas and charts will make data analysis for Excel more powerful.

"Visual animation features—like Morph and Zoom—will add polish to PowerPoint presentations. Server enhancements will include updates to IT manageability, usability, voice, and security."