So, you buy Office 2013—except now the purchase has changed. Instead of paying, say, $125 for a Home & Student version, which you can use for as many years as you like, you will pay a subscription for Office 2013, $100 a year. So, if you use it for just three years (I have been using my Office 2008 for 5 years now), you would pay $300. Deal, right?
It gets better. With Office 2010, you can transfer the software to a new computer. Your old computer gets too slow, so you buy a new one. Just delete Office from your old PC, reinstall it on the new one, and you get more years of use.
Not so with Microsoft’s new setup. Here, the suite is tied to a single machine. You get a new computer, you pay all over again. Even if your old computer is stolen or breaks down.
I know some people—not many, but some—who still use Office 2003. They may have paid $125 or $150 ten years ago, and still have a usable app. Microsoft’s new arrangement means that in order to do the same thing, they have to shell out $1000. Sure, you (presumably) get the upgrades over time, but people still using 2003 obviously don’t need them. And yes, you can still get the non-subscription apps—but Microsoft is clearly signaling a sea change here; you can expect the future to be by subscription.
They try to sweeten the deal, like with 60 free Skype minutes (Microsoft bought up Skype, making changes I hate, like the “home” screen you are unable to escape), and 20GB of SkyDrive space.
A lot of people feel compelled to get Microsoft’s office suite. Because it’s what everyone uses. Because they believe that only Microsoft’s product can create or open Microsoft files. Because they don’t know that any alternatives even exist.
Well, they do. There are cheap and free alternatives. If you use a Mac, Apple sells their suite for $20 an app (Microsoft sells theirs at $110 a pop as standalones), or the whole suite for $60, no subscription. Outlook sells for $110 also, while Apple’s Mail is free.
But even better are the freebies. You could use Open Office (if you feel like you want to use an Office 2003 clone), or even better, just use GMail. It will open and save MS Word docs, so there’s no problem with compatibility.
Just create a free GMail account and get 10GB of storage (my school account gives me 25GB). Get Google Drive and have synced folders on your computers. Go into your account and click on the “Drive” link at the top, and you see all the files that are saved in that folder, from any computer you choose. You also get an Office Suite, not as powerful as Microsoft’s now-even-more-pricey version, but with all the features you are likely to use. Available on any computer you sign into GMail with—ultimately portable.
Go into the word processor, and use an interface not unlike Word’s. Use any of Google’s 600+ online fonts, or just the standards. Do text formatting, indents, margins, alignment, line spacing, the works. Keyboard shortcuts work much as they would on a regular app. Headers and footers with automatic page numbering. An equation editor. Comments. Insert images, create shapes, make tables. Open any document, save it to your Google account, or export it to your desktop as MS Word, PDF, Open Office, RTF, or plain text.
Printing will save the file to your computer as a PDF, preserving the fonts (though you can download and install any or all of them if you want).
Same goes for spreadsheets instead of Excel, presentations instead of PowerPoint. There’s a drawing program and a form builder. And then you can add from a long list of extra apps, including code editors, QR code generators, Mail Merge, photo cataloging and editing apps, chart and diagram builders, as well as more alternatives for text editing and presentation building. More than 100 add-on apps.
OK, so there’s no “Smart Art” or “Word Art.” How often do you really use those, anyway? If you need advanced features, then you’re out of luck—but probably 95% of all Word users don’t. And I have not checked all the add-on apps; it’s possible that some have the missing features you might need, like Mail Merge.
Don’t like where Microsoft is going? Don’t use it. Just get free GMail. Save a cool grand over a decade.