Microsoft Office has been a productivity mainstay for individuals and businesses for decades. A couple of years ago, Microsoft introduced a huge change to the Office suite of products with Microsoft Office 365. While in many ways, Office 365 is the same as earlier versions of Microsoft, there are a few important differences.

What Is Microsoft Office 365?

With Office 365, Microsoft has moved the Office suite into the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. It works in a very similar to tools like SalesForce and NetSuite. Paying a monthly or yearly subscription fee gives you access to a suite of applications. If you end your subscription to Office 365, you will no longer have access to the applications. Your documents will still be available to you using Microsoft’s Office Online web apps, but you will only be able to use the functions available in Office Online, which is much more limited than Office 365. Adobe’s Create Cloud model works on a similar principle but the licensing works a little differently.

Pros of Office 365

There are significant advantages of using Office 365 rather than purchasing a stand-alone version of Office. One of the biggest is price. The least expensive stand-alone version of Office 2013 has a retail price of $139.99. By contrast, an Office 365 subscription retails for $6.99 per month. Royal Discount can save you a significant amount of money either way. Shop Now>>

There are further advantages. Installing one of the stand-alone Office products means taking on the responsibility for keeping it updated, especially for security patches. Office 365 removes this need, as the product is always kept up to date by Microsoft. Files created in Office 365 are automatically uploaded to the cloud, so you have access to them from anywhere. Subscriptions to Office 365 come with 27 GB of storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. Even more, the applications themselves are also available via the cloud. If you don’t have access to your own computer, you can access full online versions of the Office applications via any web browser or on a mobile device.

Microsoft releases new versions of the Office applications every few years. If you purchase a stand-alone version of Office, you will have to purchase the next version in order to get the latest tools. With Office 365, you are always up to date on the most current version of Office, with no added cost. You also don’t need to worry about any installation hassles.

Cons of Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 does have drawbacks. Because your applications and data are stored in the cloud, your ability to access them is dependent on your internet connectivity. If you need the ability to work completely independently of internet access, a stand-alone version of Office may be a better choice. The applications do run if you are offline, but you will need to connect to the Internet at least once every 30 days in order to keep your subscription active.

Not everyone is comfortable with keeping all of their files on a cloud service, especially sensitive or highly private data (Microsoft’s servers are secure and encrypted). Users of Office 365 can store their files locally rather than on the SkyDrive service, but it’s still up to the user to understand where their files are and how to control access to them. Storing files locally negates some of Office 365’s advantages, such as the ability to easily access your files and applications anywhere.

While the subscription costs for Office 365 are lower than the one-time purchase prices for stand-alone versions of Office, those costs are ongoing. If you stop paying for your subscription, you lose access to the applications. If you make a one-time purchase of Office software, the up-front cost is greater, but you can use the software indefinitely. For some users, this may be a more cost effective choice.