Microsoft 365, previously known as Office 365 is a well-known brand for Microsoft now. But you may have also heard about their other different, but still similar product offerings such as Microsoft Office 2021, or other versions for the desktop, for both Windows and Mac. Are desktop versions the same as Microsoft 365? Well, there is no straight yes or no answer! But it does matter because many people can’t understand where the distinctions are. Let's first find out what’s confusing with all this terminology:
- Microsoft 365: Is Microsoft 365 a name of a web site? Or is it also a subscription product? If it is a subscription, is that for using some online applications? Or for some standalone Office apps that can be run on your desktop machines or tablets? Or is this some fancy stuff that is called a cloud these days? Or is Microsoft 365 all of these?
- Microsoft Office for Windows: This seems less complicated. Isn’t this the desktop version of Microsoft's Office suite that includes familiar programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc? Then why do you see Microsoft 365 or Office 365 mentioned everywhere on Microsoft's web site—even on the pages for Microsoft Office? Is there a connection?
- Microsoft Office for Mac: Yes, this is the Mac version of Office, but the Office for Mac pages on Microsoft’s site contain so many references to Microsoft 365 or Office 365, and you’ll see that Microsoft 365 includes Office for Mac as well! Will this work on your Mac computer?
If you echo even half the doubts raised in the preceding section, then you are not alone. Nowhere have we found content that describes the distinctions between these different terms well. Maybe the descriptions themselves kept changing as the product lines evolved, and many people were as confused as we were. Clearly, there needs to be a resource explaining these distinctions. That's the reason we decided to create this plain English guide to explain what Microsoft 365 means, and how it relates to desktop versions such as Office 2021, Office 2019, Office 2016, and Office 2013. By the end of this article, we hope you will understand these concepts clearly.
Sometimes, oversimplification can help! Broadly speaking, there are two ways through which you can buy Microsoft Office. The first of these is how you have bought Office products typically: as a box that contains a product key—or even a product key that you buy online, and then install the product on your computer. The second way is through a subscription; think of this as renting the software.
The Perpetual Versions, Office 2021, 2019, 2016, and 2013
These are the familiar versions of Microsoft Office that get installed on your computer through an online installation (in some cases, you may get to use an Office install DVD or an ISO file). When you buy these versions, you typically also get a product key that you enter when the installation routine prompts you.
At the time of updating this page, Microsoft Office 2021 is the current version for both Windows and Mac. Office 2019 and 2016 are the older versions for Windows and Mac respectively. Office 2016 and some older versions still have millions of users who have not upgraded to Office 2021 or Microsoft 365 yet.
Perpetual Microsoft Office for Windows
There are five types of Office bundles available for Office 2021 for Windows:
- Office Professional 2021: This suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access, and is intended for business use for one person on one PC.
- Office Home & Business 2021: This package includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, and is intended for home and business use for one person on one PC.
- Office Home & Student 2021: This package includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and is intended for home and educational use for one person on one PC.
- Office LTSC Professional Plus 2021: This suite includes Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Skype for Business, Teams, and Word. This suite is available to organizations through a volume licensing agreement.
- Office LTSC Standard 2021: This suite includes a smaller subset of applications compared to Office LTSC Professional Plus 2021, but is similarly available to organizations through a volume licensing agreement.
Perpetual Microsoft Office for Mac
There are three types of Office bundles available for Office 2019 for Mac:
- Office for Mac Home & Business 2021: This package includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, and is intended for home and business use for one person on one PC.
- Office for Mac Home & Student 2021: This package includes Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint, and Outlook, and is intended for home and business use for one person on one PC.
- Office LTSC Standard 2021: This suite includes a subset of Office applications, available to organizations through a volume licensing agreement.
Additionally, there may be other bundles available for Office from other channels such as MSDN Visual Studio, TechNet, etc. Also, some Office family products including Visio and Project are no longer included in an Office bundle, and you need to buy or license them separately.
Get the Microsoft Office Suite for Free?
Want to get a free or cheaper copy of Microsoft Office? You may be eligible. To find out more, explore our Microsoft Office for Free? page.
The Subscription Version, Microsoft 365
In the simplest terms, just think of the 365 suffix for Office as a version of Microsoft Office that never gets outdated. You may be using the perpetual version of Microsoft Office today, but you would not be auto-upgraded to the next desktop version of Office when that is released, or even any interim release that Microsoft rolls out. And you will have to spend more dollars (or any other currency) to get a licensed version of the newer Office! And that’s probably something most of us have been doing for more than a decade already. Microsoft now wants to change our attitude and their revenue by making us all move to a subscription model, where your Office version will never get outdated—that’s what Microsoft 365 is! And now that makes even more sense since Microsoft has a complete roadmap for features in Office that only Microsoft 365 subscribers will get. Do note that Microsoft 365 is often known by its earlier name, Office 365.
Is Microsoft 365 for everyone? Is it affordable? Do you even need it? Those are all valid questions, and let us explore these answers in our Microsoft 365 Versions page.
01 02 02 - Buying and Installing PowerPoint: Microsoft 365 or Office 2021? (Glossary Page)