The Microsoft Office Suite — Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher — has long been the standard when it comes to digital office software. Microsoft has moved the Office programs from discs and downloads to a subscription service called Office 365 that costs $69.99 a year for one user or $99.99 a year for up to six.
You can also buy Word, Excel and Powerpoint for a one time purchase of $149.99, but it’s missing services like cloud storage and other features. Before you hand over your credit card, look at your options.
First, consider if you really even need to spend money on Microsoft Office. Click or tap here for a free powerful alternative to Office for Windows and Mac that probably has all the features you need.
I know it sounds crazy, but there are free programs that rival the big names. Forget forking money over for Photoshop. Tap or click here for a free program that works just like Photoshop.
If you are committed to the industry standard, there are ways to get the Suite for free — and they’re not terribly difficult to do.
Go directly to the source
For people with Microsoft user accounts and internet access, Office.com is a great way to access Microsoft Office suite programs at absolutely no cost. Windows users generally set up an account when they purchase a Microsoft device, but you can set one up for free whenever you want.
Just log in to your Microsoft account on Office.com or go to the app you want to use on the Office products webpage. You’ll be able to use any of the Microsoft Office suite programs you want, so long as you have an active internet connection.
That is the tradeoff with Office.com — you can’t access Microsoft Office programs or the documents you create in them, without being connected to Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It’s like Google Docs, where everything is stored in the cloud for you but you can save in more Microsoft file formats (though files in Office.com default to the Office.com file type when you save them, and you have to save them separately in order to make them .DOC or .DOCX).
If you can be on Wi-Fi while you’re working though, and stay on it, Office.com is perhaps the best way to have Microsoft Office as you don’t have to worry about programs taking up space on your hard drive.
Plus, you can access files on any device — you just need your Microsoft login to reach them. Certain editing features are only available to people who pay for Office 365, sadly, but Office.com gives you the most bang for no bucks. If you want other options though, keep reading below.
Word is capable of much more than just writing documents. Tap or click here for 5 hidden features you’ll wish you already knew when using Word.
Use mobile apps
You can get Microsoft Office on basically any device these days — desktop computers, laptops, tablets and even phones. Devices can all access the same documents on the same account at different times, so you can work from basically anywhere using the Office Suite. And you can do it for free if you download the mobile apps.
The Microsoft Office mobile apps are free to download and give you access to basically all of the Suite’s programs, though the particular programs available to you are slightly different between Android and iOS, and between iPhone and iPad (though all give you Word, Excel, and PowerPoint).
You can download as many or as few of the programs you want, and access or share them anywhere thanks to cloud-based sharing and saving. The mobile apps themselves will take up some space on your mobile device, but the documents won’t, so you don’t have to worry about overloading your phone or tablet with documents and spreadsheets.
The downsides to the Microsoft mobile apps are that, like with Office.com, editing features are limited in the apps unless you get an Office 365 subscription. On top of that, editing documents won’t be available to you at all if you’re using a mobile app on a device with a screen larger than 10.1 inches.
You have to buy Office 365 if you want to actually type in and edit documents on the iPad Pro, that or access Office.com via your web browser. Otherwise, you’ll just be able to view them (although again, on a smaller device you’re fine to use it).
RELATED: Using an iPad? Yes, you can use the Microsoft Suite on your iPad. Click or tap for 10 more tips and tricks every iPad owner should know.
Since the mobile apps won’t get you free Microsoft Office on your desktop, depending on what devices you regularly use, this might not be the preferred way to get yourself free access to Microsoft Office programs.
But if you just need to read a lot of Word documents, this could work quite nicely and not cost you a penny.
Go back to school
If you really want the downloaded Microsoft programs on your computer for offline use (which can increase your storage capacity over Office.com, as you’ll be able to save things to your hard drive in addition to the cloud), depending on your age or where you are in life, you might be in luck.
Microsoft had the forethought to create Office 365 Education, a system that gives students with valid school email addresses (who are also of legal age to sign up online) free access to the entire, downloadable Microsoft Office Suite for the entire time they are students.
Office 365 Education lets students share files and applications between devices, so they can access their work anywhere and use Microsoft Teams and Skype to coordinate class projects online or offline, all at no cost to them.
If you’re a student, make sure you’re taking advantage of this offer. It can work for late high school students, as well as college students, for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
That could be a long time of free Microsoft Office use if you stay in school, so enjoy this perk while you can! Occasionally, Office 365 Education will send a prompt to make sure you’re still an active student — once you no longer are, you’ll have one more month of free access. Then you’ll have to buy Office 365 or use one of the methods in this article.
Worst case, use the free trial
If you just need Microsoft Office for a single project, the 30-day free trial of Office 365 could be exactly what you’re looking for. There’s no limited usage in the trial, and access between devices is even easier than any of our above suggestions, as they have no limits either once you’ve logged in to mobile apps properly.
You’ll be able to work on or offline, you get 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage, and you can even share the trial with multiple users (up to 25 of them, which is a ton!) so multiple people can work together this way.
Again, it’s a great option so long as you don’t need access beyond one month. The first-month trial is available to you only once, and once it’s done, you lose access to Office 365 all together unless you start paying for a subscription, or purchase the Word/Excel/PowerPoint bundle.
RELATED: They say nothing in life is free, but we all know that’s not exactly true. Tap or click for 15 tech freebies you’ll want to get your hands on right now.
Ultimately, we recommend signing up for a free Microsoft account and using Office.com for free Microsoft Office access. It’s just as convenient for working and sharing as Google Docs, but you get more file extension options, so it might be more useful for sharing with people who use offline Microsoft products as well.
Any of these options might suit you best though, so think about what you want, and go for whichever one your gut says is best. Free access to Microsoft Office is nothing to sniff at, so even with limited capabilities, these are pretty great options.
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