The short answer is – unfortunately, no. For most people Microsoft Office is no longer free, but now requires a paid subscription to Office 365. The era of "free Office" is ending as Microsoft shifts to a recurring subscription model for its Office apps and services.
In this article, we‘ll explain in detail how Microsoft Office is changing, what options you still have for free access, and whether you need to pay for an Office subscription.
Microsoft Shifts to Subscriptions
Microsoft made Office 365 subscriptions mandatory in 2018. Before this, you could purchase a "lifetime license" to Office apps with a single payment. But now the only way to get the full Office suite is an ongoing subscription.
Why did Microsoft make this radical change? Simply put – recurring revenue. As experts like Brian Fung at CNN have pointed out, subscriptions provide consistent cash flow. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, the company is focused on “renewals that lead to increasing revenue per user.”
Let‘s compare the subscription model to lifetime licenses:
|Low monthly/annual fee
|Must buy new license
|Always latest apps/features
|Chance of Abandonment
|Lower with auto-renew
With subscriptions, Microsoft feels confident they will retain customers and see recurring revenue year after year. Even if you stop paying, your data being deleted provides strong motivation to return.
But how did Microsoft pull off this massive transition without consumer backlash? They implemented it carefully over a multi-year period:
Early 2010s – Introduced Office 365 alongside traditional licenses
2015 – Launched Office 365 Home and Personal aimed at consumers
2018 – Discontinued standalone license sales to consumers
2020 – Over 300 million active Office 365 subscribers
Today over half of Microsoft‘s revenue comes from subscriptions like Office 365. The strategy has clearly worked financially, even if it means the end of “free Office”.
What Free Options Exist?
While the full Office desktop apps now require payment, Microsoft does provide some free options:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more are available for free through Office Online. However, these only work in web browsers, not as normal desktop apps. The online apps have limited features compared to full Office.
Here‘s an overview of what you can do with the free browser-based apps:
|Full Desktop Apps
Office Online meets basic needs like viewing Office files or making quick edits. But for professional-grade work, the desktop apps provide much more powerful tools.
Microsoft offers 30 day free trials of Office 365, including desktop app access. However, a credit card is required for sign up. At the end of the trial you must start paying or lose access.
Office 365 Education
Students, teachers and faculty can get Office 365 Education for free. It includes full desktop apps plus tools like Teams, Sway and Classroom. You need an active school email address to qualify.
Third-Party Lifetime Licenses
Some third parties like StackSocial offer discounted lifetime licenses to Office 2021. However, these eventually expire with no upgrade option.
Do You Really Need Office?
At this point you may be wondering – do I even need Office anymore?
For most business users, an Office 365 subscription is the best option for convenient access to essential tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But does everyone really need the full Microsoft Office suite?
Here are some alternatives to consider:
Google Workspace – Docs, Sheets and Slides offer much of the same functionality as Office Online for free. Great for casual use.
Apple iWork – Pages, Numbers and Keynote work seamlessly on Macs and iPads. Only $20 one-time purchase.
LibreOffice – Full-featured open source office suite. Completely free but lacks shiny UI.
Windows apps – WordPad and QuickBooks for basic documents and spreadsheets. Pre-installed on Windows.
Unless you are a power user, one of the free or low-cost options above may meet your needs. Of course, Office remains the standard in many workplaces. But with viable alternatives available, purchasing an Office subscription is now a choice rather than requirement for consumers.
Getting the Best Deal on Office 365
If you do decide an Office subscription is right for your needs, here are some tips for getting the lowest price:
Buy annual plans rather than monthly – you save about $60 per year
Look for deals around major holidays – discounts as big as 30% are common
Avoid auto-renew and resubscribe manually for promo pricing
Buy as part of a device bundle – Office 365 is discounted with Surface and PC purchases
Use student discounts – many retailers offer lower student pricing
Purchase license keys from authorized third party resellers – can save 20-30% on multi-year plans
With a bit of deal hunting, you can get Office 365 Home for under $70 and Personal for around $45 annually. While not exactly “free”, this makes Office reasonably affordable considering the utility you get from apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
The Future of Office Pricing
Will Microsoft ever make Office completely free again as they did with Windows? Or will prices continue to rise?
Industry analysts expect Microsoft will stick with subscriptions, but may offer some free upgrades or even lower pricing in the future for a couple reasons:
Competition – Free alternatives like Google Docs are growing in popularity and capabilities. Microsoft may need to offer more value.
Market Saturation – At over 300 million subscribers already, there are fewer new customers left to attract.
Brian Fung predicts if Microsoft does lower pricing, it would likely be through bundling Office with other services like Outlook email, OneDrive storage, and Skype. This could attract new subscribers to the broader Microsoft 365 ecosystem.
But a return to completely free Office looks very unlikely in the experts‘ view. Microsoft is heavily invested in the subscription model now.
Free Office is History – But Alternatives Exist
The era of "free Microsoft Office" has come to a definitive end as subscriptions become mandatory for the full desktop suite. But viable free or low-cost alternatives exist like Google Docs, iWork, and LibreOffice. And Office 365 subscriptions can be had for relatively reasonable prices of around $70 annually if you shop sales and discounts.
For most people, using Office Online or one of the free competitor products will likely meet basic needs for occasional document editing or presentations. But if you are a frequent Office user, a subscription gives you full access to constantly updated apps and features that may be worth the yearly fee.
Hopefully this overview gives you a better understanding of why Microsoft Office is no longer free, what options you still have, and whether an Office subscription makes sense for your personal or professional needs.