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The Cheapest Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Your Mac or PC Today

There's two expensive application suites that are almost considered a necessity to have on your computer: Microsoft Office, and Adobe Creative Suite. Many find ways around paying for the latter (alternate apps work, there's the cheaper Adobe Elements apps that work for most stuff, and such), but Office is a bit trickier.

Especially this year. After releasing Office 2013 for Windows and the new Office 365 subscription version of Office, traditional Office pricing has gone up. Used to, all editions of Office let one user install Office on up to two computers, which worked great if, say, you had a desktop and a laptop. Then, the Home and Student edition let you install Office on up to 3 computers in the same household, which was a great deal for families.

With Office 2013's release, now all editions of both Office 2013 and Office 2011 for Mac are only licensed to be installed on one computer. At least you're still allowed to transfer your Office license to a new computer if you need to, something Office 2013 oddly didn't allow at first.

The Cheapest Way to Get Office Today

So, if you want to purchase Office today, and not get it as part of a subscription, then here's your options:

Office Web Apps

I know, I know: it's not real Office, but it's close enough for basic use, and it's free. It's the best option if you really need to go cheap on Office. Check out my full review of the Office 2013 refresh of the Office Web Apps at Web.AppStorm, or go try them out for yourself at SkyDrive. You might be surprised.

Real Office

Ok, so you want real Office to install on your computer? Here's the options today:

Office 365

The first option — and easily the best if you have more than two or three computers — is Office 365 Home Premium, Microsoft's new subscription for Office. For $9.99/month or $99.99/year, you can run Office on up to 5 computers (Macs or PCs), get 20Gb extra Skydrive storage (a $10/yr value, though even that's way cheaper than, say, extra Dropbox storage), and 60 minutes of Skype calls per month (worth around $20/yr). You'll get full Office - Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, as well as Access and Publisher on a PC. If you'd pay for Skype and extra Skydrive storage as well, and have 5 computers in your household, it works out to around $14/computer/year.

Students get Office 365 University even cheaper: $79.99 for 4 years of Office 365 for 2 computers. That'd work out to around $10/computer/year.

If you're running a business, Office 365 for Business makes a fairly compelling choice as well if you do need Office, or even if you just need hosted email. You can get hosted Exchange email for your team starting at $4/month, and can get Office for your employees (and yes, they'll each be able to run it on up to 5 devices) for $12.50/month. You can check through the options and see what works for you. I'm actually considering giving the cheaper option a shot for my own domain's email, and have an upcoming AppStorm series about it. Stay tuned.

Oh, there's one more awesome feature in all versions of Office 365: you can run Office — full Office — from the web if you're away from your computer (though it only works on PCs). It lets you essentially stream the full-featured app, downloading the features you need as you need them, so you can use full Office anywhere. That's pretty nifty.

So, all of those are decent options if you have a lot of computers to use with Office, and if you want Microsoft's other services anyhow. The only problem is, you don't really own Office, and can't use it forever. It's a subscription. If you'd buy Office upgrades each time they come out, it likely won't work out more expensive, but you have to consider the best for you.

If you want real Office that you own, for good, then there's still options.

Office 2011 for Mac

Mac users don't have a new version of Office yet, but even still, the existing version of Office got slapped with the same 1 computer per copy of Office restriction. The good thing is, there's still copies of the original Office 2011 Home and Student Family Pack on Amazon, and it'll still get all of the latest updates. That'll get you Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for up to 3 Macs in the same house for ~$120. That's $40/Mac, and if you use it for 4 years without buying an upgrade, that'll cost $10/Mac/year.

If you're using Office professionally, you can get a download 1-computer copy of Office 2011 Home and Business for just under $200, or there's a few copies of the original 2-computer boxed copy of Office 2011 Home and Business for $299.

Now, both of these prices are only for right now; as soon as those copies sell out, then Office 2011 will cost $119 per computer for Home and Student. Also, remember that Office for Mac is due for a refresh perhaps later this year, so if you can, it might make the most sense to hold off on a purchase, or go for Office 365 so you'll get updates included.

Office 2013 for PC

If you want Office 2013, even just for one computer, you're likely best to go with Office 365. Your cheapest options, otherwise, are Office 2013 Home and Student for $139.99, and Office 2013 Home and Business for $219.99. The former gets you Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote for home use, while the latter adds Publisher and Access and is licensed for business use.

Both options only are licensed for one PC, though the good thing is you can use it perpetually. If you only need the basics of Office on one PC, then Office 2013 Home and Student will likely work out cheaper over time. Otherwise, though, the subscriptions start looking really attractive price-wise.

And Office 2013 is nice, with a much more streamlined UI across the whole suite, web app creation in Access, PDF editing in Word, smart data entry in Excel, and more. It's worth checking out … just maybe not as a boxed version, as you would have purchased Office before.

Office 2010 or older versions

But you know what? Office 2010 or 2007 is still a good option if you've got a copy around, and if you're not feeling like you've got to have the latest features, then your best value would be to stick with what you have. Office 2010 is still quite similar to 2013, and even 2007 is enough up-to-date to keep you from feeling too behind.

Or, if you need to buy Office, you can still get Office 2010 Home and Student for $169, and it'll still let you install it on 3 computers, which works out to just $56/computer. That's a perpetual license, so you can keep using it forever, making it quite a bit cheaper right now than Office 2013 or Office 365 if that's all you need. Plus, it'll run on XP and newer, while Office 2013 and Office 365 will only run on Windows 7 and 8.

There's also still copies of the pro versions of Office 2010 around on Amazon, as well as Office 2007, but none of those would really work out cheaper than their 2013 competitors right now. Though, that's still an option if you need to buy Office for XP or Vista PCs.

That's a wrap

So, that's a lot to consider, but hopefully it'll help you find the best option to buy Office for your PC or Mac in 2013, or get around having to shell out for it. The Office Web Apps on SkyDrive really are a great option, and older versions of Office still are a great value option — especially if you already own them.

But Office 2013 is a compelling release if you're on a PC, and the new Office 365 subscriptions are far more interesting than they look at first glance. I'm especially interested in their hosted Exchange/Sharepoint/Office options, and that's surprising for this Mac and web app guy that's almost left Office behind. Microsoft may have made some missteps with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, but they've also got some interesting things going on.

Thoughts? @reply me on Twitter.