What? I have to pay every month for a computer program…?

microsoft-officeMonthly subscriptions for everything.

Yep, that’s where we’re headed. I am hearing more and more frequently from students and parents their confusion over buying or renting Microsoft Office and other programs. We can only be thankful that the software makers took so long to figure this out. We had it good with software, just buy disk, load it up and you’re good until the next version is out three years later. It’s not there entirely, but we’re heading to monthly fees for everything.

The reason cars cost what they do, the reason health insurance costs what it does, the reason cell phones, houses and college — whatever it is that you buy on credit or in monthly installments — are so expensive is because by spreading their costs across monthly payments allows consumers to buy more than they could otherwise afford if paying cash. What is generally paid for in cash has more stable, lower prices than things purchased on credit. Allowing consumer to buy what they can’t afford credit creates more demand, so prices go up. Think about it this way: if you have the money, why borrow, which makes your purchase more expensive? The wealthy don’t borrow money to buy things; instead of borrowing money, they’re making more money by financing everyone else’s loans. (The typical home 30 year mortgage costs about twice the original borrowed amount, and, worse, that interest is paid before the original loan).  With software, is it the same?

Yes and no. Yes, the monthly subscription is over time more expensive than a single purchase. But, no, it will not lead to a spike in prices as with homes, college and cars. A couple things are going on here.

First of all, mobile use has changed the way technology companies approach consumers. Mobile requires frequent software updates, and consumers move between platforms and operator systems more quickly than with their computers. It’s now a consumer expectation that operating systems and surrounding software be constantly and quickly updated. Secondly, it’s “the cloud.” Microsoft is actually late to move to the subscription model, to which Adobe recently moved all of its products. You cannot purchase new Adobe software anymore: it’s all rental. Then there’s Google docs, which has made strong inroads into the student and home markets, so Microsoft is trying to make its products more, not less accessible. Finally, businesses have essentially been using the per-user license model, anyway, and Microsoft is very wisely making the same system available to consumers. They call it “Office 365.”

So instead of buying MS Office outright, which costs $139.99, Microsoft wants you to rent it’s Office 365 version for $9.99 a month (or $99 per year). Now, before you scream too loudly, here are the advantages:

1. The 365 license is for up to five machines. (You weren’t supposed to be using the Office disk on all those different computers…)

2. Instead of the “2003,” “2007,” “2010,” “2013” versions, ultimately Office will just be updated with new features without having to launch each as a different product. This means that your license today buys the next version. This is important in today’s world as operating systems change rapidly.

3. Office 365 brings more programs than the stand-alone Office, so you get Outlook and others along with your Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are on the Home and Student disk version. As I have written before, I strongly recommend using Outlook, which costs another $80 on the single purchase Home & Office version.

4. The cloud. Yes, that cloud. Office 365 includes “web apps” versions of all the software which can be accessed from any browser, just like Google Docs, only with most of the functions of Office (not all of them; the interface is different).

5. Cell phone integration, which along with cloud file storage makes for easy access to all your documents from any device. I no longer store anything but older and exceptionally large files on my hard drive. Everything I use and create I store on the cloud, which in my case is SharePoint and Skydrive.

6. Exchange email: Office 365 allows users to take advantage of “Exchange” which used to belong to businesses only. Exchange allows for syncing of email and other accounts across all yoru devices. So a calendar entry on one machine will update automatically on all the others, not just your cell phone as with competitor products. (Google uses the Microsoft “ActiveSync” system to allow this feature on Google accounts with Outlook, but just recently took it away from non-paying customers.)

7. Windows 8: this is about Win 8, for sure. Aside from the touch featur3es, the new Windows integrates with cloud- and web-based applications, and Microsoft wants to move its customers in that direction. (I am writing this on a Surface RT; see here for more that).

8. Finally, for our college students who have .edu email addresses, there’s a great deal on Office 365: 4 year subscription for $79.99. There’s no reason not to get that one.

If you’re a Google Docs person, God bless ya, but you’re not getting anywhere near the capabilities you can get with the Office products. I’m not a Microsoft shill. I am deeply concerned about my work efficiencies, and Microsoft’s programs are superb products that work for me better than others. I wrote two books using Wordperfect, but MS Word proved itself the better program, so I use it instead. I use Youtube, a Google product, and other services that are not Microsoft systems. I like what works best. And, as I said before, most businesses use Office because they care about their employees’ efficiencies. Whether you go with the subscription or the single-user license for Office, you really do need these programs.

As always, call or write me to discuss your own technology needs and concerns. Good luck, and get busy with making your work more efficient and leaving yourself more time to get more done and enjoy yourself more.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.