By Yasmine Crossland for Good Housekeeping
Both at home and at work, Microsoft Office has been a staple part of computing for decades. Pretty much all of us will have have used it at some point to create Word documents, Powerpoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets. It’s so popular that in 2016 Microsoft Office was used in some way, shape or form by a whopping 1.2 billion people. But with packages starting at £60 a year, it doesn’t come cheap.
If you’re an Office user, before you next splash out to renew your subscription, it might be worth thinking about whether you really need Office at all. Almost 30 years after Microsoft Office launched, there’s finally a free alternative worth considering. Google has its own similar set of apps, and they’re all available online right now, completely free!
Here’s what you need to know to work out whether or not you really need Microsoft Office.
What does Microsoft Office offer?
There are a few different ways you can use Microsoft Office. The first is to buy a subscription to Office 365 which lets you use the latest full versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook on your PC as well as on any tablets or smartphones you own. You also get Publisher and Access but you can only use these on a PC. You also get 1TB of storage space on Microsoft’s cloud service, OneDrive (everyone can get 5GB free). Office 365 Home lets you have six different log-ins – a better deal for a family. With both options you’ll get every new update such as new tools and features, as well as security updates and bug fixes.
The second option is to make a one-off purchase of Office Home & Student 2019. You’ll have access to Word, Powerpoint and Excel to use on one PC or Mac, but you can’t use the software on a tablet or smartphone and you won’t get the extra online storage or the updates.
It is possible to use Word, Excel and Powerpoint free of charge, though. Visit office.com from any web browser to access limited versions of these programs (you can also download free apps for your smartphone or tablet). You’ll need to sign up for a free Outlook account but it’s worth noting that there are lots of features missing and you won’t be able to save documents to your computer’s hard drive – they’ll be stored in your OneDrive space instead.
Can I use Google Docs instead?
Just like Microsoft, Google offers a similar service to Office that lets you create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations from your PC, tablet or smartphone. The difference is: it’s free. Again, your files are saved to a secure area online, known as Google Drive. All you need is a Google login to use it.
What are the pros of Google Docs, apart from cost?
It’s simple to use. Microsoft Office comes with tonnes of features (some suited to more advanced use, such as Word’s References menu which helps you write in an academic format). This can make Office seem a little cluttered. Google ditches all but the most necessary features, which makes its programs easier to use. You can even remove any features you don’t need. No more scrolling through endless menus looking for the spell checker!
You get extra free online storage space. Google Drive gives you 15GB of free storage space – that’s triple the amount Microsoft offers free of charge.
Google autosaves everything you do to Google Drive by default, which means you’ll never lose any work because every click and keystroke is saved. Although the web version of Microsoft Office does this, if you use the PC version it autosaves to your local hard drive after a specified number of minutes. If you want it to save more often – or automatically – to OneDrive, you’ll have to tweak the settings.
What are the pros of Microsoft Office?
There are loads of templates to choose from. Whatever kind of document you’re creating, Microsoft Office has a template for it. They come in handy when you’re creating files like CVs, flyers or letters, in particular. In comparison, creating documents like these on Google can be tricky and you won’t have as much control as you would with Microsoft.
You don’t need to rely on an internet connection. A big problem with using Google’s free service in your web browser is that it relies heavily on an internet connection. If you suddenly lose web access, you won’t be able to access your files or load the services in your browser at all. Google Docs can be used ‘offline’ but this is fiddly to set-up and has to be done in advance. That won’t be a problem with Microsoft Office because everything is available both online and offline.
There’s a wider range of apps on Microsoft Office. With your paid subscription, you don’t just get Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. You’ll also have access to Outlook for your emails, Publisher to build more professional documents and files, as well as the Access database software.
Microsoft Office lets you edit more files types. A major downfall of Google Docs is that it won’t let you edit PDFs, whereas Microsoft Word will. This could be particularly important for students and professionals who need full control of a wider range of file types.
Buying a Microsoft Office subscription will be unavoidable for those who have a lot of more complex files to create and edit, like students or professionals. But if you need software for light word processing and data entry then we would recommend switching to the Google Docs Suite.