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Office 365: To subscribe or not to subscribe

Rob Griffiths | April 7, 2014
Even though Office 365 on iPad is free to download and can be used to view Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, you can't use it to edit existing files or to create new files without buying a subscription.

Office for iPad

Unless you spent the past week offline, there's really no way you could have missed the news that Microsoft released iPad versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. There's also no way you could have missed the uproar over the pricing for the three apps.

But just in case you did miss the pricing uproar, here's a bit of background on the issue. The apps are free to download and can be used to view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files (though installing a 400MB app to view a file seems like overkill). However, you can't use the apps to edit existing files or to create new files without buying a subscription to Office 365, Microsoft's online Office-everywhere service. And that subscription will cost you (assuming "you" are a typical home user, and not a business or college student) $100 per year. Suddenly those free apps don't look so free any more.

Should you pay the $100 a year for create/edit access in the iPad Office apps? The answer to that question really depends on how you use the Office apps on your computer(s) and/or tablets, and how many computers are in your household.

Note that I'm not addressing whether software subscriptions are a good or bad thing in general—that's another subject entirely. I'm also not addressing whether $100 is too much, too little, or just right, because the answer to that will vary according to each person's economic situation. I'm merely trying to address which types of users should consider paying the annual subscription fee, whatever it might be.

So should you sign up for Office 365? First, let's cover two easy "yes" and "no" cases.

I need access to the full Office suite on an iOS device
Somewhat obviously, if you need access to the full Office suite on your iOS device, then you'll be ponying up the $100 per year charge, as that's the only way to get full access to Office apps on your iOS device. (Note that Amazon is currently selling a one-year subscription for $67.15. If you're in this category, buying now will save nearly 33 percent on your first year's cost.)

Yes, Apple offers alternatives via its suite of iWork for iOS apps (free with new iOS devices, $10 otherwise). But for those who need the highest level of Excel, PowerPoint, and/or Word feature compatibility, the iWorks apps are close, but not close enough, to fill the need.

Microsoft wants users on Office 365, and they're using Office for iPad as the carrot to get them there. You can grumble about the strategy, you can complain about the cost...but if you absolutely need Office on iPad, you will be signing up for Office 365 at $100 per year.


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