Office 2013 or Office 365: What's the Difference and Why So Confusing?

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If you haven't been following Microsoft in the last year or two and want the latest version of Microsoft's productivity applications (most namely Word, Excel and PowerPoint), expect to encounter a lot of new names and to be confused.

What's in a Name?

I don't know about you, but I have had a really hard time keeping up with Microsoft this past year.

Wait…let me rephrase that. I have had a hard time keeping up with Microsoft branding-and I am not just talking about logos here. I am referring to the names of things. More specifically, I have had a hard time figuring out the differences between any Microsoft product containing the word “Office” in its name-and as a Microsoft MVP for the Office Systems, I'm supposed to be an expert on this subject!

If I am having trouble, what chance do our average end-users have at sorting through all the Office-branded offerings?

Office 2013. Office 365. SkyDrive. SkyDrive for Windows App. Office On Demand. Office Web Apps. Microsoft Account. The New Office. The Cloud.

All of the above names are necessary in understanding Office 2013's fullest potential; however, many of my students and clients remain blissfully unaware of their existence, of both the names themselves and the products/services to which they refer. Many of the above names have popped up just within the last year or so and finding clear-cut and accurate definitions are a bit hard to locate. Need an example? Go to and you'll find a link to a page explaining what a Microsoft Account is, but not SkyDrive.

The Evolution of Office 365

I will be completely honest. When Office 365 first came out, I HATED the name “Office 365,” mainly because of the confusion it brought to so many of my students and colleagues.

A year ago, people would falsely assume that Office 365 was a new version of the popular productivity application suite called Microsoft Office, and I'd have to correct them: “No, Office 365 is very different,” I'd say and then I'd elaborate on the differences, much like Microsoft's own Office 365 FAQ page does:

Office is productivity software (including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, and OneNote) that is installed on your desktop or laptop computer. Office 365 is an online subscription service that provides email, shared calendars, the ability to create and edit documents online, instant messaging, web conferencing, a public website for your business, and internal team sites-all accessible anywhere from nearly any device.

And since January 28, 2013, it is even more confusing. If someone were to ask me the exact same question, the above answer just does not suffice. So, as of right now, Microsoft' own Office 365 FAQ answer is wrong; it's not a lie, but it's not exactly the truth either.

The answer to this same very frequently asked question, “What is the difference between Office and Office 365?” takes longer to explain than it ever has. So bear with me, as I try to explain the confusing differences between Office 2013 and Office 365.

The Differences Between Office 2013 and Office 365

The short answer is that “Office 365” is now the name given to Microsoft's subscription services. What that means to you, is that rather than buying a product license out right you are paying money every month (or year) to use their products. The products included will vary depending on the Office 365 package.

The subscription aspect is nothing new, as Office 365 has always been a subscription service. The confusing part lies in how the various Office 365 packages have changed. As of January 28, Microsoft now offers an Office 365 Home Premium subscription, which looks more like an Office 2013 subscription than it does what we've come to know as “Office 365.” In other words, it does NOT come with email, shared calendars, instant messaging, web conferencing or a public website or internal team sites (aka SharePoint, Exchange or Lync) like the FAQ answer states. No, the Office 365 Home Premium package is this:

  • Access
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • OneNote
  • Outlook
  • Word
  • 20GB SkyDrive storage
  • 60 minutes of Skype calls per month

You pay $99.99 a year and can install on up to five devices.

In short, the only thing that Office 365 Home Premium has in common with the established Office 365 brand is that it is a subscription. Cancel the subscription, and your copy of Office turns into a pseudo “Read-Only” version that will still allow you to read and print any file. In other words, you will not be able to make changes, save or create new documents through your desktop apps; however, you could always use the free Office Web Apps (aka SkyDrive) to edit (but only those features that are available with the free Office Web Apps-and that's another blog for another time).

As a Microsoft MVP and consumer, I find all this confusion very sad because I really do feel that this is the best version of Office to date. The changes to PowerPoint's Presenter View and the Excel apps alone make it worth the upgrade.

Plus, as consumers, we really do have more choices than ever!

Office 2013 Packages

At the time of this post, there are either five or seven options to acquire the new Office Applications (I write seven because at the time of this publication two packages are still labeled as “preview” and have yet to be “released” officially). Here are all the options:

Which Version Is Right for Me?

For people with multiple devices…

If you use a desktop pc, laptop and tablet and want Office 2013 across all devices and happily synced with one another, your best bet by far is subscribing to Office 365 Home Premium. It gives you the most bang for your buck, considering the number of devices you can install on. And if you use a Microsoft Account and SkyDrive, syncing and accessing files is really easy and convenient.

For the people who fear or can't afford change…

If you are (or your company is) still using Office 2003, stick with the “boxed” packages, either Office Home and Student 2013, Office Home and Business 2013, or Office Professional 2013. Because, let's face it-if you are still using Office 2003, you are probably not someone who is interested in or needs the “latest and greatest” new features.   The subscription versions advertise “ongoing version updates” which could mean learning new interface or feature changes without much warning. So, if you are a person who doesn't like change when it comes to your staple productivity applications, stick with the “boxed” versions. Just keep in mind that they've done away with all the discs. The “boxed” versions still mean you have to download the software from the internet.

For students…

Students have the best deal by far. Students get all the perks of the Office 365 Home Premium package, but only pay $79.99 for two PCs/Macs for a four-year subscription. Just note, that this is only for “higher education students, faculty and staff.” So, parents with seniors in high school, wait until your child has a valid student ID before purchasing a subscription. You'll save a lot more money that way.

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Heather Ackmann

Heather Ackmann is an accomplished instructor who has taught over 4,000 students at the high school, college, and adult levels. Specializing in computer applications, writing, and literature, she holds a degree in English and Secondary Education, an Illinois Type 09 Initial Teaching Certificate, and is a Microsoft Certified Master for Office 2003. While her energetic and easy-to-follow style is ideal for beginners to computer applications, her knowledge, thoroughness, and foresight in potential problems will satisfy the more proficient user.