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.
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, 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.
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.
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, 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.
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?
Because Office 365 is hosted in the cloud it works on a simple subscription-basis. This is an attractive prospect for growing businesses, as they can upgrade their subscription as and when they need to.
Microsoft announced in July that it would be raising the price of Office 2019 10 percent over current on-premise pricing in October 2018. The price increase will include Office client, Enterprise CAL, Core CAL, and server products, giving customers even more reason to go to the cloud with Office 365.
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
Microsoft Ignite 2018 Updates
On 24 September 2018 at the annual Microsoft Ignite conference taking place in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced a raft of new features for Office 365. Many of these were AI-enabled features:
- Microsoft Search: This is a new search capability which allows employees to locate data and files from inside or outside of the organisation without leaving the work flow. The feature works by combining power from Microsoft Graph and AI technology from Bing to help deliver highly relevant results and will be rolled out on Bing.com and Microsoft.com from 24 September 2018.
- Ideas: Also powered by AI, this feature delivers intelligent recommendations for design, images and layout depending on what you're working on, simply click on the lightning bolt to launch the ideas pane.
- Intelligent enhancements in Excel: There are an increased number of features in Excel that aim to help employees transform data into insights and improvements in functionality such as speedier 'lookup' functions. Insert data from Picture is another new Excel feature allowing users to take a picture of a table with their phone and quickly convert it into an Excel file.
- Office 365 and LinkedIn: The ability to connect these accounts means users can share Microsoft Office documents from Word, Excel or Powerpoint with first degree connections.
- Microsoft Teams: Some new AI-powered capabilities are also coming to Microsoft Teams including Background blur which uses facial detection to blur your background in video conferencing, and meeting recording produces an immediate, searchable transcript of video meetings. Microsoft Teams is also becoming more deeply integrated with Yammer and SharePoint.
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 updated its non-cloud version of Office. Although, with Microsoft upping the cost of its on-premise cloud services, opting for the cloud-based 365 option is becoming more appealing.
As well as updates to the classic programs, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Office 2019 also promises upgrades to its Publisher 2019, Access 2019, Project 2019 and Visio 2019.
For a full guide to the new Office 2019, see here.