Though there are free alternatives available, for many, there’s nothing quite like the familiar, comfortable workings of Microsoft Office, from Word’s superior spell and grammar check to the ease and sense of security of storing files locally on your own PC and not online.
Before you can get Office for free, cheap or any price, you should know there are two main variants. Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) gives you constant updates but requires a monthly or annual subscription fee. Office 2019 is a fixed package of software, but you only have to pay for it once. Microsoft really wants you to use the subscription-based Microsoft 365 service, of course.
The Office 2019 package is slightly different than Microsoft 365. On top of that, there are companies besides Microsoft selling Office for free (both Microsoft 365 subscriptions and Office 2019 keys) or cheaper than Microsoft. And you can even run Office apps for free online. So what’s the best and cheapest way to get your productivity on?
From Office for free to paying $150 or subscriptions, here’s a breakdown of the best and cheapest ways to get Office (we focus on personal versions, rather than business ones).
Office 2019 vs. Office Online vs. Microsoft 365
Download Office 2019 From Microsoft: $149.99
Despite shifting focus to Microsoft 365, which used to be called Office 365, Microsoft still sells Office Home & Student 2019 for a one-time charge of $149.99. This includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote but lacks some solutions Microsoft 365 has. These missing solutions may or may not be relevant to you: Outlook, Publisher (PC only), Access (PC only) and the OneDrive and Skype cloud services.
You can buy some pieces of the Office suite individually, but considering Word 2019 is $139.99, if you plan on using even 1 more Office app, it’s a better deal to buy the whole platform.
No matter where you get Office 2019, it won’t be updated monthly like Microsoft 365 is. That means you’ll never see new features added. What you buy is what you get. However, you will get security patch updates “as required,” Daniel Vargas, Microsoft director of product marketing, told Tom’s Hardware.
It’s very possible that you don’t care if your Office software is updated regularly. Heck, you may even be okay with an older version of Office, say Office 2016, which you can still find keys for from third-party sellers for cheaper than Office 2019. However, Office 2016 has reached end of life (EoL), meaning Microsoft no longer provides security updates for it. If you can settle for the 2016 version of Office, you can, as of this writing, get it from Kinguin for PCDestination for about $50. But customer service may be lacking (more on that later).
Remember, to use Office 2019, you need to be running Windows 10. Luckily, we’ve already detailed how to get Windows 10 for free or cheap.
If Office 2019 is your preferred choice, you can get it for significantly cheaper than the $149.99 Microsoft charges by buying it from a third-party retailer.
Download Office 2019 Key From a Third-Party: ~$45
Microsoft charges $149.99 to download Microsoft Office Home & Student 2019, but you can save a lot of money if you’re willing to buy it from a different store.
Newegg sometimes sells the same download key for $123.99, so it’s worth checking. If you can wait for a physical key, Walmart currently sells the key card for $124, Amazon occasionally has it for $125 and Kinguin has it for a shockingly low $36.
But before you take out credit card, let’s talk about the reasons you might want to avoid these retailers.
Saving over $100 on Office 2019 sounds like a no-brainer. However, since you’re not buying from Microsoft, you’ll have to exert some caution. You’re probably comfortable shopping at a well-known retailer like Newegg or Amazon; however, you’ll want to check their return policy on software.
You may be more hesitant to buy from key reseller website like Kinguin. Many question their legitimacy or morality behind such deals. To learn more about its Office 2019, we spoke with Kinguin directly.
“Only the original developer or publisher of a digital product can generate keys, so all of the Office 2019 keys come from this source. From there, either a seller buys them directly from the publisher or from the wholesaler, who also got them directly from a publisher, and sells them on Kinguin for a fair market price,” Michał Puczyński, PR Manager at Kinguin, told Tom’s Hardware in September 2019.
Puczyński admitted there are “a few bad apples” in its marketplace but said this is inevitable since there are “tens of thousands of Office 2019 keys sold by thousands of sellers on Kinguin.” However, he claimed that only one out of 700 postings aren’t legitimate, and an even smaller percentage of shoppers actually get scammed.
“Our fraud prevention team manages to stop nearly 100% of these attempts before they take place. When a scammer is detected through our custom fraud technology, that person is banned for a lifetime from selling on Kinguin,” Puczyński explained.
Kinguin also offers a $5.69 “Buyer Protection, ”which guarantees you a refund if you get a bum key.” However, even if you don’t buy this protection, Kinguin is willing to work with you for a potential refund if your key doesn’t work.
“We always put the customer first and work to find a solution for any problem the customer has encountered, which may include issuing a refund,” Puczyński said. “The Kinguin Buyer Protection is an optional feature designed to provide added protection while purchasing in our store, as well as additional services, but that doesn’t mean the customer will get inadequate treatment without it. Kinguin does reserve its right not to accept any returns of already delivered items or game keys to protect itself from scams.”
Regardless, we’ve heard of customer complaints regarding slow customer service or the company offering refunds rather than dealing with individual complaints. We haven’t been able to get in touch with Kinguin for a response.
Get Microsoft Office Free: Online and Mobile Apps and More
As its name implies, Microsoft Office Online doesn’t live on your PC. Instead, you can only access these services with an internet connection. You also have to have a Microsoft account. You can get to Office Online by signing in with your Microsoft account here. Once you do so, you have access to free Office tools.
The service is a good alternative to G Suite, especially if you don’t like some of that platform’s limitations. Your files will still be at the mercy of the web, but you’ll be able to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, OneDrive, Skype, Flow, Forms and Sway without paying any money. Plus, since everything is internet-based, you can access it from any computer connected to the web.
As of November, Microsoft consolidated Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a single mobile app on both Android and iOS smartphones. The app is available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Free Office Online may not be a good fit for your largest or most complex projects, since features are more limited than what’s offered in Microsoft 365. It has less menu options. For example tabs like Draw and Design are missing from Word online.
The free Office Online does come with 5GB of OneDrive storage, but that’s actually skimpy compared to the 15GB of free storage you get with Google Drive.
Similarly, there are free iOS (varies from iPhone to iPad) and Android (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Outlook, OneNote and SharePoint) versions of Office software that are also available for free but with fewer features.
Note that you may also end up getting Microsoft 365 for free through a sale. For example, from now until April 18, LG is offering a 12-month subscription of Microsoft 365 Personal for free if you buy a 2021 LG Gram laptop.
Buy Microsoft 365 From Microsoft: $69.99 or $99.99/year
On April 21, Microsoft renamed Office 365 to Microsoft 365. In addition to a new name, Microsoft 365 brings new features, including artificial intelligence, new templates and content and “cloud-powered experiences,” according to Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President, Modern Life, Search & Devices at Microsoft.
Microsoft 365 Personal, which is for one person across multiple devices, is $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year. You can use Microsoft 365 Home for free through a one-month trial. Microsoft 365 Family, for up to six people, is $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year.
Microsoft 365 is a great option if you don’t mind paying for your productivity suite on an annual or monthly basis. It won’t be long until you’ve paid more for Office 365 than you would have for Office 2019, but it does come with more apps than Office 2019. In addition to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, Office 365 includes Outlook, Publisher, OneDrive and Skype. PC users also get Publisher and Access.
Perhaps the best part is you can install Microsoft 365 on an unlimited number of devices and log into your subscription on up to 5 of those devices simultaneously. Additionally, Office 365 Personal subscribers get 1TB of OneDrive storage for up to 1 user, and Office 365 Home users can share their cloud storage with 6 users. You also get 60 minutes of Skype calls to real phone numbers for 1 or 6 users, depending if you get Office 365 Home or Personal.
Another advantage Microsoft 365 has over traditional Office 2019 is its monthly updates, which vary but can include new features, functionally and security updates, “ and often it is all of those each month,” Microsoft’s Vargas told us in September 2019.
“Most importantly, Microsoft 365 is connected to the cloud, so you can access your content from any device, co-author with anyone in real-time (regardless of whether or not they’ve purchased a copy of Office) and use the power of artificial intelligence to create more impactful content with less effort,” he added.
You can get a free trial for Office 365 Home (only), but it’ll last a mere month.
Buy Microsoft 365 From a Third-Party: $49.99 or $79.99/year
You can also buy or renew your Microsoft 365 subscription from a third-party retailer in one-year packages that are cheaper than what Microsoft charges for its one-year subscriptions.
At the time of writing, Newegg has a 15-month Microsoft 365 Personal subscription for $69.99 if bought with another product or $60 for a 12-month Office 365 subscription, (note that you won’t get the features of the current Microsoft 365), which will have to be delivered.
Note that you still get free Microsoft technical support for the duration of your subscription, even if you buy your subscription outside of Microsoft. But Microsoft won’t handle subscription or billing issues, such as cancellations or refunds. This is because “Microsoft has limited access and visibility over subscription purchased through a third-party retailer,” according to Vargas.
Get Office Free: Microsoft 365 Education for Students, Teachers
If you’re a student or teacher, you can actually get an Microsoft 365 subscription for free, if your school qualifies. The subscription includes SharePoint, Sway, Forms, Stream, Flow, PowerApps, School Data Sync, Yammer, which aren’t included in regular Office 365 subscriptions. However, you miss out on Outlook, Publisher and Access.
To see if you’re eligible for free Microsoft 365 Education, head to Microsoft’s website.
Microsoft Office is a productivity staple. If you insist on the traditional procurement method of buying and owning the software for life and don’t need the software to be updated monthly, you should stick with Office 2019, just know that EoL will eventually come. You can also buy a legitimate key from a key reseller for as low as about $45, saving you around $105 from Microsoft’s pricing.
If you’re not doing big projects but instead just basic documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc., you may be able to get away with free Office Online or mobile apps. Just be sure you have an Internet connection.
But for heavy-duty productivity, the world is moving toward subscription-based software. Microsoft 365 comes with more offerings than Office 2019, monthly updates, the ability to share among multiple devices, plus a heaping 1TB of free cloud storage. You can get it for cheaper if you buy it outside of Microsoft, for as little as $50 for a year. But make sure it’s a retailer you trust, in case of billing or subscription questions. If you’re okay with making monthly or annual payments to continue creating and editing files, Microsoft 365 — is tomorrow’s productivity suite.
Scharon Harding has a special affinity for gaming peripherals (especially monitors), laptops and virtual reality. Previously, she covered business technology, including hardware, software, cyber security, cloud and other IT happenings, at Channelnomics, with bylines at CRN UK.