Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365: How to choose (2024)


Microsoft Office may be the most common productivity tool for corporate users, but it's not a one-size-fits-all suite. Here are the differences between Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 and how to decide which is best for you.

By Gregg Keizer and Christina Wood

Computerworld |

Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365: How to choose (1)
Table of Contents
  • Microsoft Office: The options
  • How you pay for Office
  • How each version of Office is serviced
  • How Office hooks up with cloud services

Show More

Microsoft Office is how billions of people around the world go to work and school, whether they do it from home, an office, a classroom, or a combination of any of those. This suite of productivity tools is used by people working in 106 languages in nearly every country in the world, and it’s available in versions for personal, small business, enterprise, and educational use.

But there is more than one way to buy Office — or, rather, to buy the license to use it. There’s the “perpetual” version of Office that’s available as a one-time purchase; the most current version is Office 2021. Then there’s the subscription version that lives in the cloud and for which you pay a monthly or annual fee. When this version was introduced in 2011, Microsoft called it Office 365, later renaming it Microsoft 365 for personal and small business subscriptions. At the enterprise level, both Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans are available. In this story, we’ll use “Microsoft 365” as shorthand for all “365” subscriptions unless we’re referring to a specific plan.

Why choose to buy it one way and not the other? The answer can be confusing, especially since each suite of tools includes most of the same applications, give or take.

Microsoft has made its preference clear: The company believes that “the cloud will power the work of the future” and would love it if everyone purchased Microsoft 365. There are lots of incentives for doing just that. But you have options.

Here’s help deciding which version is right for you or your company.

Microsoft Office: The options

How you pay for Office

One big difference between the “2021” and “365” options is how you pay for them. If you are buying a “perpetual license” (such as with Office Home & Business 2021 or Office LTSC 2021), you pay a larger sum than with the subscription’s offerings under the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 brand, but you do so only once. When you subscribe to any of the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 plans, you pay annually or monthly.

Office 2021: a perpetual license

Whether you buy a single copy of Office 2021 in a retail outlet or download hundreds of seats via volume licensing, Microsoft calls this is a "one-time purchase" because you pay only once, not every month. (Labels like “perpetual,” which have been widely used byComputerworld, technically note the type of license rather than payment methodology, but in this case, the kind of license is tied to whether it was bought outright or simply “rented.”)

Microsoft defines the term as when “ pay a single, up-front cost to get Office applications for one computer.” Up-front is the key adjective there. You have to ante up the entire purchase price before you get the software.

That purchase of a license to legally run the software gives you the right to use that version of Office 2021 in perpetuity. In other words, the license has no expiration date, and users may run the suite for as long as they want. Pay for Office 2021 this year and use it for the next seven years? Fine. Use it to operate your space portal in the year 2050? Nothing to stop you. (Except hardware compatibility. Though you could probably find an old, refurbished computer and drag that into space.)

But if you want new features that come out with the next update, you will have to pay full price again, whatever that is, when the next version comes out — if one comes out. There are no upgrade options on the perpetual license packages.

Microsoft 365: Office as a service

Microsoft 365, the purchase method Microsoft would prefer you choose, is a subscription service, where you pay the software giant monthly or annually. There is a discount, sometimes a tempting one, for going with the annual payment plan over the monthly one. (All enterprise plans, from Enterprise E1 to E5, require an annual commitment.) And the company is always sweetening this pot by offering more apps than you get with the perpetual license products and with a continuous supply of new features.

Like any subscription, Microsoft 365 provides a service — in this case, the right to run the suite's applications and access the associated services — only as long as payments continue. Stop paying, and rights to run the apps expire. This happens in a progressive way, giving you time to download your data or update your payment plan, whichever you choose.

For 30 days after non-payment, your plan will be “Expired.” You will still have access to all your apps and files. If you don’t activate it again while it’s in the Expired stage, it moves to “Disabled,” where it will stay for 90 days. You won’t be able to access your apps or data until you pay up. If you still don’t pay for your plan, it will be “Deleted.” At that point, it’s gone.

A Microsoft 365 license, then, is contingent on sustained payments. Halt the latter, and the license is revoked. Restart the payments — but don’t wait too long — to restore the license.

How each version of Office is serviced

Although payments define one difference between Office 2021 and Microsoft 365, Microsoft’s development and release pace is ultimately more important to users — and the IT professionals who support them.

Think of Office 2021 as traditional software — a bundle of tools that typically don’t change much until the next major version. That holds for servicing, too. Microsoft does release monthly security and quality updates for the perpetual license versions of Office. (You can check from within any Office app if there are updates available. From, say, a Word document, go to File > Account and look for Product Information. Then choose Update Options and Update Now.)

But Office 2021 doesn’t get the continually upgraded features and functionality that Microsoft 365 does. What you get when you buy the suite, feature-wise, is it. If you want the updates, at some point in the future, you will have to buy whatever version Microsoft is selling as a perpetual license then.

(The company says of the release of Office LTSC 2021, “While this will not be our last perpetual release, we continue to make investments that make it even easier for customers to adopt Microsoft 365.” And in an online explainer about all Office products, the company says, “We are happy to confirm our commitment to another release of the perpetual version of Office in the future, beyond this release.”)

Microsoft regularly releases feature and security updates for Microsoft 365 apps, though. And it releases them as they happen. As new features and functionality accrete, and the applications in Microsoft 365 evolve, Microsoft will decide it’s time for a new version of Office. It will then package some of those features into an upgraded suite for customers who continue to make one-time, up-front purchases. How long they keep doing this likely depends on how long there is a demand for these “locked in time” versions.

One other important note: Office 2021 and Office LTSC 2021 will be supported with security updates only through Oct. 13, 2026. That’s just five years of support, down from seven years in Office 2019 and 10 years in prior releases. In contrast, with Microsoft 365 subscriptions, support never runs out — as long as you keep paying, of course.

How Office hooks up with cloud services

One reason to choose Office 2021 over Microsoft 365 is internet access. If you don’t have reliable access to the cloud, can’t be connected to the internet for security reasons, or — for whatever reason, maybe you live on a remote mountaintop — your computer is often offline, this is the type of software you need.

In fact, internet access is one of the main reasons Microsoft can’t force us all to subscribe to Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 runs in apps that are downloaded to your computer, phone, or tablet, but those apps require near-constant internet access, especially if you use OneDrive and store all your files in the cloud.

In standard use, Microsoft 365 stops working if it can’t connect to the internet for 30 days. For some use cases, this is a deal breaker. But the company is making efforts to overcome this objection to the Microsoft 365 products. Last year, Microsoft launched features for enterprise users that allow Microsoft 365 keep working without issue even if it is offline for extended periods of time. An IT administrator has to set it up, but after that, a user can keep working, offline, for up to 180 days.

Office 2021, on the other hand, does not rely as heavily on an internet connection to operate, save files, and self-update. You can connect it when you have access and work offline when you don’t. This, as much as cost and a desire to stick to old-school software distribution models is, perhaps, the most compelling reason to insist on one of the perpetual license products.

Whichever license you ultimately choose, you will get many of the same tools. And the reasons for making one choice over another have less to do with price and features than with how you or your users work, support and security needs, reliability of internet access, online storage and collaboration needs, and how excited (or annoyed) you or your users are likely to be by new features that turn up, like a gift, in the software.

This article was originally published in July 2017 and most recently updated in June 2022.


  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft 365
  • Office Suites
  • Productivity Software
  • Microsoft

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365: How to choose (2024)


Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365: How to choose? ›

Simply download and run it. Then restart computer, reopen Word and check the outcome. If it asks you to activate Office, sign in the account associated with your Office Home & Business 2021 to activate Office. In the original post you mentioned that you uninstalled 365, and downloaded Office 2021.

How do I use Office 2021 instead of 365? ›

Simply download and run it. Then restart computer, reopen Word and check the outcome. If it asks you to activate Office, sign in the account associated with your Office Home & Business 2021 to activate Office. In the original post you mentioned that you uninstalled 365, and downloaded Office 2021.

What is the most basic difference between Microsoft 365 and Office 2021? ›

Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365
Office 2021Microsoft 365
Apps on the webNoYes
Users and devices1 user on 1 PC or MAC1 user on desktop, laptop, tablet and phone
Online storageNo1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage
SupportFirst 60 daysAround the clock phone and online support
5 more rows
Apr 18, 2023

Is Office 365 different from Office 2021? ›

The biggest difference between Microsoft Office 365 vs 2021 is that Office 365 is a subscription service, while Office 2021 is a one-time purchase. This means that with Office 365, you always have the latest version of the software and access to online storage and collaboration features.

How is Office 365 different from previous versions of Office? ›

How is Office 365 different from previous versions of Office? Office 365 is a subscription-based service, meaning rather than buying a copy of the suite outright for a one-time, up-front cost, users instead pay a monthly subscription fee to access the service at a level of their choosing.

Do I need to uninstall Office 365 before installing Office 2021? ›

Before you Install Office 365

If you do not uninstall previous versions of Microsoft Office and you install Office 365 your computer will not run any program of Office 365 properly. Click on the corresponding software version for more information on how to uninstall Microsoft Office.

Can you remove Office 2021 and use Office 365? ›

Microsoft Office should be completely gone from Windows 10, and now you can move on or reinstall Office 365 from your Office online account or manually use the standalone installation for Office 2021. You cannot uninstall individual apps anymore, such as Word or Excel, using Microsoft 365 (Office 365).

What are the cons of Office 365? ›

Disadvantages of Office 365
  • Subscriptions aren't for everyone. You don't have to pay out one-time costs, but you do have to pay every month. ...
  • Compatibility issues with bespoke systems. ...
  • Constant updates mean constant changes. ...
  • Most people only use 20% of the functionality. ...
  • You don't actually own the software.

How long will Office 2021 be supported? ›

Office LTSC will go out of support on October 13, 2026.

Can you buy Microsoft Office for lifetime? ›

Microsoft Office Professional 2021 lifetime license: $40

This wildly popular offer for a $40 lifetime license to Microsoft Office 2021 is around for just a few more hours. It's available for both Mac and Windows, so be sure to grab the right one for the computer that you use regularly.

Is it worth upgrading to Office 2021? ›

Office 2021 might be better if you only need Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. The only caveat is that the upfront cost is expensive. You have to pay again to upgrade and do not get additional features.

Is Office 365 being phased out? ›

Is Office going away entirely? No, as part of Microsoft 365 you will continue to get access to apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. We will also continue to offer one-time purchases of those apps to consumers and businesses via Office 2021 and Office LTSC plans.

Why are companies switching to Office 365? ›

With Office 365, companies can choose between a pure cloud environment, an on-premises solution, or a hybrid environment that integrates cloud services into an on-premises IT infrastructure. This enables customers to move to the cloud at a pace that makes sense for their business.

Can you have both Microsoft 365 and Office? ›

If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription or non-subscription version such as Office Home and Business 2021, 2019, 2016 or 2013, in most cases you can't run these versions together on the same computer.

What are two advantages of Office 365 compared to the traditional Office? ›

Office 365 lets you share mailboxes, calendars, contacts and edit documents in real time through collaborative tools. Sharing calendars in Exchange means you can see who in your organisation is available when, so you can schedule meetings that work for everyone, first time round.

What would be the main advantage of using Office 365 when compared with MS Office? ›

Access everything, everywhere, anytime

With Microsoft Office 365, you can access your documents and files from anywhere, at any time. Whatever device you're using, as long as you have internet connectivity, you can access files, instant messaging services, and online meetings, all through the Microsoft surface.

Should I delete old Office before installing 365? ›

We recommend that you uninstall any previous versions of Office before installing Microsoft 365 Apps. To help you uninstall versions of Office that use Windows Installer (MSI) as the installation technology, you can use the Office Deployment Tool and specify the RemoveMSI element in your configuration.

Will I lose my files if I cancel Office 365? ›

If you cancel a monthly subscription, it immediately moves to the Disabled stage on the date you cancel it. This means that your users immediately lose access to the Microsoft 365 assets, and only admins have access to the data for the next 90 days.

Will I lose my files if I uninstall Microsoft 365? ›

Tip: Uninstalling Microsoft 365 only removes the Microsoft 365 applications from your computer, it doesn't remove any files, documents, or workbooks you created using the apps.

How do I change my Office 365 to out of Office? ›

How to set up an Out of Office message in Office 365
  1. Open Outlook.
  2. Click File.
  3. Click Automatic Replies.
  4. Enter your Automatic Reply message.
  5. You can configure different automatic replies for senders inside or outside the organisation.

Can I use Office 2021 for free? ›

Office 2021 is sold as a one-time purchase, which means you pay a single, up-front cost to get Microsoft 365 apps for one computer.

Can I uninstall Office 2021 and reinstall on another computer? ›

If the license type you have allows the reinstallation of MS Office, then you need to first uninstall it on your first computer. To do this, you can go to the Start menu and look for the “Add or remove programs” option. Alternatively, you can go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features to get this.

How do I avoid Microsoft 365? ›

How to cancel a Microsoft 365 subscription. Go to the Manage subscription page and if prompted, sign in with the same Microsoft account you used to purchase your Microsoft 365 subscription. Select Cancel subscription (it might say Upgrade or cancel).

What are the advantages of moving to Microsoft 365? ›

Benefits of Office 365 Migration
  • Enhanced accessibility (at any place and time) ...
  • Save heavily on costs with the pay-as-you-go pricing. ...
  • Automatic backing up of files. ...
  • Trusted source and high-end security. ...
  • Better communication through collaboration. ...
  • Online conferencing.

What is the point of Office 365? ›

Microsoft 365 is our cloud-powered productivity platform. With a subscription to Microsoft 365, you can get: The latest productivity apps, such as Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive, and so much more. The ability to install on PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones.

Does Office 2021 still work? ›

Support for retail versions of Office 2021 will end on October 13, 2026; unlike older versions of Office, there is no extended support period.

Is Office 2021 stable? ›

The latest versions make your Office 2021 programs run faster, more stable and smoother than ever before!

Can I still download Office 2021? ›

Yes. You can purchase Microsoft 365 subscriptions for both Mac and Windows. Office Home & Business 2021 or Office Home & Student 2021 are also available for Mac as a one-time purchase. Office applications available for a Mac are Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote.

How can I get Microsoft Office for free permanently? ›

Here's how to get them:
  1. Go to
  2. Click Sign up for the free version of Office under the "Sign in" button.
  3. Log in to your Microsoft account or create one for free. ...
  4. Select the app you want to use and save your work in the cloud with OneDrive.
Apr 30, 2023

Do I have to pay for Office 365 every year? ›

Microsoft Office 365 requires an annual or monthly subscription fee. There are different subscription plans available to choose from, depending on your needs and budget. Here are the current subscription options available for Office 365: Microsoft 365 Personal: This plan is designed for individuals.

Do you have to buy Microsoft Office every time you get a new computer? ›

Do you have the Microsoft Office on your Microsoft account? If you have the Microsoft Office on your Microsoft account, you can install Office from your account and you do not need to repurchase Microsoft Office.

How many times can I install Office 2021? ›

Depending on your Office 365 plan, you can access Office apps that you can install on up to five devices, including your computers and mobile devices.

How much is the Office 2021 license? ›

Office 2021 will be the next standalone version of Microsoft's Office suite, designed for businesses and consumers who want to avoid the subscription version of Office. Office Home and Student 2021 will be priced at $149.99 and include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Microsoft Teams for PC and Mac.

Can I move my Office 2021 to a new computer? ›

You can only transfer if you have the same or a newer version of Office on the new computer. You'll need to deactivate Office on your old computer before activating it on your new one. However, your old settings and files will not be transferred over automatically; you will need to export them manually.

How long will Office 365 be supported? ›

We won't take any active measures to block older Office versions from connecting to Microsoft 365 services if they're in extended support and are kept up to date. This includes Office 2019 and Office 2016 after October 10, 2023. Both of these versions are in extended support until October 14, 2025.

Is Windows 11 or 365 better? ›

If you have new hardware and want to run Windows locally, Windows 11 is your best choice. But if you need to manage desktop environments at scale, with an easy-to-use VDI-like infrastructure, Windows 365 is the best choice for your operation.

How long will Microsoft support Office 365? ›

Therefore, if you're using Microsoft 365 on a computer running Windows 7 or Windows 8 and are configured for automatic updates, you'll no longer receive updates for the Office apps, including feature, security, and other quality updates. Support for Windows 8.1 ended on January 10, 2023.

What are the pros and cons of Office 365? ›

What Are the Pros and Cons of Office 365?
  • Pro: Office 365 Allows Workers to Access Documents and Email from Anywhere. ...
  • Con: Online Applications May Have Limited Features. ...
  • Pro: Cloud-hosted Applications Save Your IT Team Time with Troubleshooting and Updates.

Why is Office 365 so popular? ›

Although Microsoft Office 365 is not the only cloud-based work platform available, it tends to offer more features and a better user experience than Google's version of these products and similar options. Having some way of allowing employees to work from home has become a must for many companies over the past year.

Why should I upgrade to Office 365? ›

Like Office on-premises, Office 365 has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, but it also includes more applications for improved productivity and collaboration, including OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, SharePoint, and OneNote, as well as powerful tools like Delve, Power BI, Sway, Planner, Stream, Forms ...

Can I download Microsoft Word if I have Office 365? ›

With most Office 365 plans, you're able to download and install full versions of Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on your PC, Mac, or mobile device.

Will there be Office 2023? ›

There's no specific release date but Microsoft is promising it for January 2023. Summary The Office version will be retired on April 11, 2023 by Microsoft. While it won't stop working after that date, it won't receive any more security updates going forward.

What's the difference between Microsoft 365 and Office 365? ›

Office 365 is a cloud-based suite of productivity apps like Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and more. Microsoft 365 is a bundle of services including Office 365, plus several other services including Windows 10 Enterprise.

What is the main difference between Office 365 and Office Online? ›

Office online is a free version of Office 365. It is linked to your Outlook/Microsoft account (if you don't have it, you can create it by going to Because it's a web application that runs in your browser, Office Online will run on everything, from PCs and Chromebooks to iPads and Android tablets.

What makes Office 365 better? ›

Microsoft 365 is a subscription service in which you get Office applications that are updated automatically when a new version is available + 1TB cloud storage + more. You'll get all the latest features and updates, as well as security updates and bug fixes with no extra cost.

What are three concerns or drawbacks while using Office 365? ›

Disadvantages of Office 365
  • Subscriptions aren't for everyone. You don't have to pay out one-time costs, but you do have to pay every month. ...
  • Compatibility issues with bespoke systems. ...
  • Constant updates mean constant changes. ...
  • Most people only use 20% of the functionality. ...
  • You don't actually own the software.

What are the 7 key benefits of Office 365? ›

Here are 7 advantages of Office 365.
  • No Downtime. Crashed servers, lost files, and other failures will result in costly downtime. ...
  • Better Security. ...
  • Easy Access. ...
  • Superior Organization. ...
  • Predictable Cost. ...
  • Speaking of Licensing.... ...
  • Extra Mailbox Storage.
Oct 17, 2022

Do most businesses use Office 365? ›

Office 365 is used by over a million companies worldwide, with 145,844 customers in the United States alone using the office suite software.

How do I activate Microsoft Office 2021? ›

If you bought a new Microsoft 365 product key card, or you received a product key when you bought Microsoft 365through an online store, go to or and follow the on-screen prompts.

Where do I activate Microsoft Office 2021? ›

Microsoft 365, Office 2021, Office 2019, Office 2016, and Office 2013 (PC and Mac)
  1. To redeem a new purchase.
  2. Step 1: Go to or
  3. Step 2: Sign in with your Microsoft account, or create one if you don't have one. ...
  4. Step 3: Enter your product key, without hyphens, if prompted.

How do I start Microsoft Office 2021? ›

Go to and sign in with an existing Microsoft account or create a new one, then enter your product key. Follow the remaining prompts to finish linking your Microsoft account with this version of Microsoft 365. No product key or not sure if you need one? See Using product keys with Office.

Does Microsoft Office 2021 have a product key? ›

You'll receive a product key if you buy a one-time purchase Office or individual Office apps, but you won't need or receive a product key for Microsoft 365. To renew your Microsoft 365 subscription, you can buy an Microsoft 365 product key card from a retailer and redeem the key at

Can you activate Office 2021 without a Microsoft account? ›

A Microsoft account is usually required to install and activate Office versions 2013 or later, and Microsoft 365 Family or Personal. You might already have a Microsoft account if you use a service like, OneDrive, Xbox, or Skype; or if you purchased Microsoft 365 or Office from the online Microsoft Store.

How do I know if Office 2021 is activated? ›

To check the activation status in Windows 10 or 11, select the Start button.
  1. Select Settings icon.
  2. Select Update & Security, and then select Activation. This page indicates whether Windows is activated.
Mar 8, 2023

How do I get Microsoft office back to normal? ›

How to Reset Microsoft Office Settings
  1. Press Windows + S to open the Windows Search dialog.
  2. Type office in the search box, right-click Office app and select App settings.
  3. Click the Reset button under the Reset section to reset Microsoft Office. It will reinstall Microsoft Office and revert to default settings.
Sep 14, 2022

How do I change my Microsoft office settings? ›

Sign in to Microsoft 365 with your work or school account. Select Settings and customize Themes, Notifications, Password, Contact preferences and Dark Mode. To view your account information, select your profile photo, and then select View account. Make any needed changes to your settings, and then choose Save.

How do I change office mode? ›

To change Microsoft Word to Light or Dark Mode, open Word and click 'File' > 'Account' or 'Options'. In the 'Office Theme' drop-down menu, select 'White' for Light Mode or 'Black' for Dark Mode. The selected theme will apply to all Office apps.

How can I get Microsoft Office 2021 for free? ›

Here's how to get them:
  1. Go to
  2. Click Sign up for the free version of Office under the "Sign in" button.
  3. Log in to your Microsoft account or create one for free. ...
  4. Select the app you want to use and save your work in the cloud with OneDrive.
Apr 30, 2023

Does Office 2021 have access? ›

Office Professional 2021 - For families and small businesses who want classic Office apps and email installed on one PC for use at home or work. Includes classic versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook plus Publisher and Access installed on one PC.

Where is the product key for Microsoft Office 365? ›

How do I find product keys in the Microsoft 365 admin center? Sign into the Microsoft 365 admin center. Go to Billing > Your products > Volume licensing > Downloads & keys > hover on product and select View keys.

What changed in Office 2021? ›

In Office 2021, you'll find new co-authoring features, inking tools, data types, functions, translation and editing tools, motion graphics, ease-of-use features, and so much more!

How does Office 2021 work? ›

You decide what works best for you: Small business, Enterprise, School, or Non-profit. Office 2021 is sold as a one-time purchase, which means you pay a single, up-front cost to get Microsoft 365 apps for one computer. One-time purchases are available for both PCs and Macs.

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