Microsoft 365 Subscription vs. Perpetual License

Reading that Adam is using Microsoft 365 got me to thinking that maybe I should too.

I’m currently on Office for Mac 2016, which is no longer supported. I rarely use the apps (which is why I’ve put off upgrading) but they continue to work well enough with Monterey on my late-2015, Intel-based iMac. Yes, there are a few annoyances, such as selecting Help → Word Help just says, “ Word 2016 for Mac is now retired” and provides buttons to buy Microsoft 365; there is no help anymore. And Excel gets a bit wonky sometimes but quitting and relaunching it seems to clear up any problems with no data file corruption. Same for Word. (I don’t know about PowerPoint since I never use it.)

Thinking about the number of computers we have, Microsoft 365 Family at $100/year for 6 people (on up to 5 devices each) starts looking very attractive vs. buying an Office Home & Student—I want only Word, Excell, and PowerPoint—perpetual license for each device for $125 a piece at Amazon and apparently cheaper elsewhere.

So, I’m interested in any problems that people have had moving from a perpetual license for Office Home & Student 2021 for Mac to Microsoft 365 Family. Microsoft’s comparison between Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 looked quite favorable to me.

Then I started thinking about what would happen if I let Microsoft 365 lapse. I’m retired and don’t use Office much; maybe at some point, I’d choose to get off the automatic update subscription. Unfortunately, apparently 90 days after a subscription lapses or is canceled, “Users can’t access Microsoft 365, files, or applications.” Specifically:

Office applications, like Word and Excel, will eventually move into a read-only, reduced functionality mode and display Unlicensed Product notifications.

So, I guess that Microsoft 365 is like renting an apartment. You get to use the software for as long as you continue to pay for the subscription. But, you never build up any equity.

Can you think of any other “gotchas” for Microsoft 365 vs. a perpetual license?

Thank you for your input.

The expired mode still lets you r files, you just can’t save changes. After many years of using Excel and Word, I decided that Numbers and Pages were enough for my needs. Also retired, I rarely trade spreadsheets with others. I dropped my Office 365 subscription a couple of years ago and haven’t had any issues. All my current spreadsheets converted over to Numbers.


Just a note about pricing. If you belong to Costco, you can get a 15-month (12-month plus 3 free) subscription to Microsoft 365 (Family) for only $89.99. That’s effectively $6 per month or $72 per year. Amazon has also offered discounts on Microsoft 365 from time to time.


Why not use LibreOffice instead?

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Or, SoftMaker Office, which I switched to when retiring and my MS Office purchase was aging out. (I tried the various versions of LibreOffice, but found SoftMaker better and was willing to pay the minimal cost, at the time, for SoftMaker.)

I will shortly be in the same boat, as soon as the next generation MBP is released. I’m currently using a version of MS Office that is about a million years old, and it does everything I need it to do. If I didn’t dislike Pages, etc., I wouldn’t be considering an Office purchase at all. All I need is Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And I really do not need or want a subscription. It’s just for me, so I’m going to go for a one time purchase.

There is online help for Office:

And there are Dummies and other books about Office as well. But there’s no Take Control book.

I never thought of checking for pricing at Costco. Unfortunately, the Costco price is $125 at this time

That’s strange – I just checked and it is $89.99 when I check

I see now. You were looking at the Home and Office version, not the Microsoft 365 Family Edition.

Yes, I was looking at the perpetual license, not the 365 license. My mistake.

Thank you for the actual link.

We had that same discussion at my house…and my bride and I decided that for a couple of retired people to just use Numbers and Pages. They’re not as fully featured so if one needs to track changes or do pivot tables for instance they won’t work…but for basic SS and WP usage they’re just fine…and it’s hard to beet free.

I made that move several years ago. Not from 2016, but from 2011. I moved to a subscription after Microsoft dropped support for 2011.

In my case, installing the 365 version created a separate installation. My old 2011 installation remained on the system. I could launch either one.

Once I was completely settled and no longer wanted Office 2011 taking up space on my computer, I uninstalled it.

But I think you will have a different experience, since you’re moving from Office 2016. This version (I think) already supports Office 365 integration.

So once you purchase your 365 license and install it on your Microsoft account, make sure your Office apps are signed in to Microsoft’s server. If not, sign in using the same Microsoft account credentials.

At this point, you should be able to perform a “Check For Updates” from the Help menu. The Microsoft Auto Update tool will download and install the latest version, upgrading your installation to the latest version compatible with your Mac.

If your subscription lapses, the apps turn into viewers. You can load, view and print your documents, but you can no longer create or edit documents.

Yes, this means you need to keep paying forever. But given the price of the family subscriptions (I renew via Costco, in order to get the best price), I find it’s cheaper to subscribe.

In my situation, I have 4 computers (maybe 5 soon) and two users. Perpetual licenses for four computers will cost $500. At Costco’s current price ($90 for 15 months), that $500 will buy me nearly 7 years worth of subscription. Even at Microsoft’s price ($100 for 12 months), that’s still 5 years.

I fully expect that if I buy a perpetual license, I will want to upgrade before I get to that break-even point. Definitely before 7 years and quite likely before 5.

If, however, you think you are going to keep using a 2021 installation for long enough that the perpetual license ends up costing less over time, that’s also a perfectly reasonable conclusion. I would only suggest that you probably don’t want to keep using it beyond the termination of support, since security updates are important.


Don’t take that as a recommendation. :slight_smile: In what I do, I have to be able to work fluidly with whatever comes my way, which can involve Word and, increasingly, Excel files. I almost never start anything either app, but it’s worth having the real apps around for certain things.

And Tonya does use both apps much more significantly, so that’s the real justification for our subscription.

Pages has had change tracking for as long as I remember. The latest version of Numbers has pivot tables.

(I’ve never used pivot tables. Numbers has for some time had a useful and powerful feature called “Categories”. It has been described as an alternative to pivot tables. I don’t know enough about pivots to judge, but, whatever: Now Numbers has both.)

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Thanks for the costco recommendation! I assume it works for renewals… I take it I will go to manage the account, then use the “Redeem a code or prepaid card” link? Does it then tack on the full 15 months after the current renewal date?

Yes. I have used it several times to get 15 month renewals. There is a delay between ordering and Costco sending the code / generally an hour or less.

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At least in Europe it’s worth shopping around. Last December I renewed a MS 365 Family license for £46.53, about US$63 from a specialised online retailer, and that includes 20% sales tax. That works out at less than 9 US$/user/year excluding tax. Of course, I work with others chained to the MS ecosystem and I have other 5 relatives using Office apps. Otherwise, I would either opt for Apple’s apps or any of the other alternatives already mentioned.

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I am chagrined to realize that Excel and Word are the only spreadsheet and word processor, respectively, that I’ve ever used.

I’ve done a few Google searches for feature comparisons of Excel vs Numbers, as well as Word vs. Pages; nothing has been very helpful.

Would you be willing to post some links to comparisons that you believe to be complete and unbiased?

Thank you.

UPDATE 2022-02-10
I downloaded Numbers and Pages from the App Store and am very impressed with them. Indeed, for my purposes, they look like good (free!) substitutes for Excel and Word.

Thanks so much for this recommendation! Today I got an email that my 365 subscription was going to auto-renew shortly at $99/12 months, went over to the Costco site, and got the $89/15 months deal. Now it shows my next auto-renewal in June 2023.


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You should be able to disable auto-renewal, in which case, you’ll be notified when your subscription is about to expire, instead of when it will auto-renew.

See also:

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