If you only need basic Microsoft Office features, you can get a limited version for free.
Microsoft Office can be expensive. A standalone copy of the Office 2013 desktop suite will presently set you back $183.79, and that’s an Amazon deal. Subscriptions to Office 365, Microsoft’s Office in the cloud, start at $7 per month or $70 per year. Office 365 includes the latest desktop version of Office (currently 2013), free upgrades, online storage, and some other bonuses, but if you don’t use these, it will turn out more expensive than the standalone desktop suite in the long run.
Either way, it’s a lot to spend. But there is some good news. If you’re not a power user and don’t need all the latest and greatest features, you can save a lot of money on Microsoft Office. How does free sound?
Office Online offers key features for free
Office Online is Microsoft’s free-for-all web based Office suite. It includes online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Sway, OneNote, Outlook, People, and Calendar. If you have used a recent version of Office, the Office Online interface will look familiar. Some advanced features, however, such as Mail Merge in Word or Pivot Tables in Excel, are not included.
To sign in, you need a Microsoft account. Documents will be stored on OneDrive, which allows Google Drive-like collaboration on documents. And of course you can download files to your computer.
Mobile Office apps for Android, iOS, and Windows are free
Microsoft has entered the iOS and Android mobile markets with free touch-optimized Office apps, also available for Windows and Windows Phone. As with Office Online, the interface is similar to what you’re used to from the desktop Office suite, but many advanced features are missing.
The benefit of these apps is that they let you seamlessly transfer between documents edited on your other devices, provided the files are synced to your OneDrive account. If you subscribe to Office 365, you can unlock premium features on these limited mobile apps.
Test the Office 2016 Preview for free
Microsoft has recently released a preview version of Office 2016, which is expected to launch later this year. It includes improved touch features, real-time collaborative editing, a smart suggestion feature called Tell Me, and several more enhancements. Overall, it maintains the familiar Office 2013 design.
The Preview will be updated regularly and remain free until the final version of Office 2016 is released. Note that installing the Preview will remove your old version of Office, should you have one installed.
Run an Office 365 / 2013 trial
If you’re not sure whether or not to buy Microsoft Office or if you only need it for a short time, a trial version may give you enough time to make up your mind or get the job done. You can sign up for a 30 day trial of Office 365 Home or Office 365 Personal. Both include the standard Office desktop applications, bundled with the Office 2013 desktop suite, the online version of Office, 1TB storage, 60 Skype minutes per month, and more. You need a Microsoft account to start a trial. You can try both the Home and Personal version for 30 days each, giving you a total of 60 days free Office 365.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a 60 day evaluation of Office Professional Plus 2013. The suite comes with Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync (Skype for Business). It doesn’t include OneDrive features.
Accredited educational institutions can also start 30 day trials of Office 365 Education E3 for faculty and students. This trial does not require a credit card. Eligibility will be verified, with the first step being a qualifying education email address.
Students and teachers can get a free Office 365 Education copy
Academic institutions can license Office 365 Education and distribute it for free to faculty and staff, including students. Users install Office on up to 5 devices, use up to 1TB of OneDrive storage, and use Yammer and SharePoint sites set up by their institution. If you qualify for a free license, you can sign up and download Office 365 Education directly from Microsoft; your email address is used to verify your eligibility. This plan can not be shared.
Don’t forget that you can use free Microsoft Office alternatives
If none of these free options work for you, you can still go with alternative Office suites, such as LibreOffice or WPS Office. They don’t offer all the same features, but they are similar and for casual users they should be sufficient.
Most people don’t need the full Office suite. To combat free alternatives and give people a taste of the power of the real Office, Microsoft is offering cheaper options, including many free ones. Which one works best for you?
Originally published at www.digitaltrends.com on June 9, 2015.