There's Office 2021 good news if you hate software subscriptions

Office 2021 for PC and Mac is coming later this year, Microsoft has confirmed, but despite what many believe you won't need an Microsoft 365 subscription in order to use it. Although Microsoft has shifted its focus in recent years to subscription-based software and services, particularly as it weaves in cloud functionality and storage from OneDrive, there's still a subset of users that would prefer the familiarity of an upfront purchase instead.

For a long time, though, Microsoft's commitment to offering that has been questioned. The software giant's push around Microsoft 365 subscriptions, after renaming Office 365 in 2020 to better reflect the nature of the packages it offers, seemed designed to push upfront purchases out of the way.

Are Microsoft 365 subscriptions cheaper?

How much value you get out of a subscription to Microsoft 365 really depends on how much of the software and services you actually commit to. If you're just looking for a word processor, then paying a monthly fee – or for a yearly subscription, which Microsoft offers a discount on – probably doesn't make sense. However if you're willing to shift your digital life to Microsoft's cloud, then things like bundled OneDrive start to make more sense.

Microsoft 365 Family, for example, is priced at $99.99 per year and includes software for up to 6 users, and up to 6TB of OneDrive cloud storage. Microsoft 365 Personal is $69.99 per year, but only includes software access for one person, and 1TB of storage.

Normally, a OneDrive standalone plan costs $1.99 per month for 100GB. That's about $24 per year alone, and for a fraction of what you get on even the Microsoft 365 Personal plan.

What's the difference between Microsoft 365 and Office 2021?

Beyond pricing, the big difference between Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 is the sort of functionality you can expect over time. With Office 2021 and the one-time purchase model, what you basically get out of the box is the software you have for its lifespan. That's five years, Microsoft says.

Like other service providers, Microsoft has been aggressive in rolling out new features and updates over the past few years. That's included special smartphone and iPad apps for Office, new video conferencing features for Teams, and more task-focused software such as Outlook Spaces. What's been consistent about them is that they're designed for Microsoft 365 users to try.

In short, if you want to be on the cutting edge of what Microsoft sees as the future of its Office suite – and the definition of that seems to get broader all the time – then you need to be on a Microsoft 365 plan. As for why you might still want to go for a one-time purchase, there are more reasons than just wanting to bypass a monthly or annual subscription fee. Systems that are rarely or never connected to the internet, for instance, need full standalone functionality.

How much is Office 2021 for personal and small business use?

While we'll have to wait a little for Microsoft to actually release the new version of Office 2021 with outright purchase, there's good news around pricing. The company says that it does not plan to change the price for the software when it does launch it, compared to what it's currently asking.

Right now, Office Home & Student 2019 is the only personal version of the software offered as a one-time purchase. That costs $149.99, and includes the "Classic 2019 versions" of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You don't get any cloud storage, though, nor Microsoft's mobile apps or Outlook, and the license covers use on a single PC or Mac, for use at home or at school.

Office 2021 Home & Student is likely to have the same restrictions, to go with the same $149.99 price. It'll be supported for five years, Microsoft says, and on both PC and Mac.