UPDATE: While I feel that the Microsoft statement below is clear, the firm tells me that it’s been misinterpreted, suggesting that many Windows 10 PCs will still come bundled with Office 365 subscriptions. –Paul
With the arrival of Windows 10 and the universal Office mobile apps, Microsoft is no longer providing free Office 365 Personal subscriptions to PC makers for them to bundle with new hardware. So while you will still see this offering at a PC maker’s discretion—and cost—the Office mobile apps will be the free PC bundle going forward.
Pity poor Microsoft: no one wanted Windows 8, its long-planned mobile app versions of Office were delayed, and it was transitioning the Office product line to a subscription model with Office 365. These three factors combined to create one of the greatest consumer benefits in personal technology: for over a year there, anyone who purchased a Windows 8.1-based PC or tablet—even a lowly $99 tablet—would get a free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, a $70 value.
This deal was literally too good to last.
And now everything has changed: the deals that saw PC makers getting Windows 8.1 for free or next to nothing—with or without a free bundled Office 365 Personal—are no longer as good now that Windows 10 is available. The oft-delayed Office mobile apps are here, as the universal Office apps for Windows 10, and they offer a ton of functionality for free. And Office 365, once a questionable experiment, has been growing steadily and picking up millions of new subscribers every month. So it’s time to adjust your thinking about what’s free and what isn’t free.
Here’s how Microsoft describes the change.
“As part of our company strategy to reinvent productivity, we want to enable productivity for people on every device, whether Windows, Android or iOS,” a Microsoft statement notes. “So we’ve made Office available on all of these platforms and across desktop PCs, tablets and phones. As we’ve disclosed previously, many Windows devices [with screens] 10.1-inch and smaller will come with Office Mobile. Customers can purchase an Office 365 subscription to use fully installed Office desktop and mobile applications and get access to Office 2016 and the latest new features as they become available.”
Office mobile is the free offering. This is true whether you’re on Windows (PCs, tablets, phones), Android, or iOS (iPhone, iPad). These apps are “touch-first,” meaning that they are primarily aimed at smaller devices, like tablets, with touch screens. But they work fine on traditional PCs too and offer basic functionality. (The universal Office mobile apps ship free as part of Windows 10 Mobile too.)
Office 365 remains a tremendous value. With its low pricing—Office 365 Personal is $70 per year for individuals and Office 365 Home is $100 per year for a family of five—liberal licensing and amazing feature-set, including access to full desktop and mobile versions of Office, unlimited OneDrive storage (starting in late 2015), and so on, Office 365 has emerged as a truly valuable offering for consumers and businesses alike. Office 365 also unlocks the full functionality of the Office mobile apps.
You can still buy Office. I’m honestly not sure why anyone would do this, but if you want to buy Office desktop suites or individual applications and tie them to a single PC, feel free to do so.
This all makes plenty of sense to me, and I think we all secretly knew the free Office 365 Personal gravy train was going to come to an end at some point. Grab those cheap Windows 8.1 tablets still in the market while you can (and look forward to the fire sales, where these devices will be sold for less than the retail cost of an Office 365 Personal subscription).