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Microsoft 365 Guides
When it comes to business productivity software, Microsoft has long been the developer of choice. Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint have become critical business tools, helping companies across industries to perform key functions on a daily basis.
But buying software is no longer a simple case of walking into your local computer shop, picking up a box containing the latest Office suite on CD, and installing the relevant programs on a single computer. With the advent of cloud computing and as-a-service licensing models, Office is no longer the only option – Microsoft 365 brings a whole raft of new tools and advanced features to the discussion.
Of course, that’s not to say traditional software has become obsolete. Office 2021 still represents the best option for a lot of businesses. But how do you choose between the two?
Let’s take a look at the two licensing options…
Both Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 include a selection of essential software applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint that help businesses stay productive.
On paper, the primary difference between Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 is the way licences are purchased. While Office 2021 is a ‘buy once, use forever’ licence that provides lifetime access to a defined set of applications for one user, Microsoft 365 is a comprehensive subscription service that goes beyond traditional Office applications and can be scaled up, down or out according to business need.
Essentially, Office 2021 is a one-time purchase of classic productivity apps for offline use, and M365 is a dynamic, cloud-based environment that supports scalability, communication and collaboration with additional online tools like Teams and OneDrive.
As we’ve already mentioned, Microsoft 365 operates on a subscription model, with licences granted on a rolling monthly or annual basis until the subscription is cancelled. The Microsoft 365 subscription can cater to any number of users on any number of devices, with packages ranging from individual subscriptions for a single home user to enterprise licences that cover every user within a massive organisation.
Office 2021 follows a traditional one-time purchase model, with each licence covering one user or one computer in perpetuity.
Updates and security patches
Because Office 2021 remains static after installation, it receives only essential patches and security updates, which need to be manually downloaded. To access any new features, users will need to buy a newer version of the software.
As a cloud-based suite, Microsoft 365 receives ongoing automatic updates and patches, which are implemented across the environment as and when Microsoft rolls them out. This not only helps protect businesses against the latest security threats, it ensures all users always have access to the latest features at no additional cost.
As a productivity, collaboration and communication suite that contains several cloud-only applications (more on that later), Microsoft 365 needs good and reliable internet access to function at its best. Even if you only intend to use the desktop versions of key productivity apps, you’ll need to connect to the internet periodically to verify your subscription status and keep the apps updated and patched.
Office 2021 functions entirely offline, so, once the initial online installation and registration is complete, users can work without an internet connection as often and for as long as they like.
The difference between Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 in terms of the applications on offer is dramatic. While Office 2021 provides desktop versions of classic productivity applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, it doesn’t include access to any of the online communication and collaboration apps that come with a Microsoft 365 subscription. These include things such as Teams (and all the brilliant tools within that), SharePoint, OneDrive, Access and Exchange.
Support is another area where Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 differ dramatically. Every Office 2021 purchase comes with just 60 days of support, after which users will need to rely on technical help from forums, FAQs and an online community of other users. Microsoft 365 subscribers benefit from 24/7 live support from Microsoft experts over chat and phone, for as long as their subscription is running.
When it comes to storing the documents being created and worked on, Microsoft 365 offers a hefty 1TB of secure online storage per user through OneDrive. Office 2021 doesn’t provide any storage, either online or offline, so users will need to manage and secure their own documents locally.
Number of users
Both Microsoft 365 and Office 2021 require a single licence per user, but Microsoft 365 business plans allow access on multiple devices, and the premium package supports Teams calls for up to 300 participants. While Office 2021 is a lifetime licence for one user, Microsoft 365 subscriptions can cover multiple users, from family accounts of five users, through business plans for up to 300, to enterprise subscriptions covering an unlimited number of users.
Pros of Microsoft 365
Ongoing security updates
One of the major benefits of Microsoft 365 over Office 2021 is the automation of security updates. With cyber threats evolving all the time, having a suite that prioritises and automatically implements the latest security measures is vital for safeguarding your business data. Microsoft 365’s integration with Microsoft Defender, an advanced threat detection and endpoint protection system, is at the forefront of this commitment to cybersecurity, ensuring businesses are fortified against the full spectrum of threats.
Cloud access and storage
Microsoft 365 offers seamless entry to and integration with the cloud, providing a huge range of online tools and features as standard. OneDrive is one such tool, each user being furnished with 1TB of secure online storage that allows access from anywhere and supports easy collaboration and file sharing among team members.
Cons of Microsoft 365
For some businesses, the subscription model represents something of a drawback. While this model does ensure access to the latest updates and features – not to mention Microsoft support – it does mean businesses will never truly own the software. Over time, this can result in a cost that far exceeds the one-time purchase price of Office 2021.
Paying for features you don’t use
The all-singing, all-dancing nature of the complete Microsoft 365 environment means businesses may end up paying for tools and features they don’t necessarily need and may never use. It’s incredibly feature-rich, but this may end up making it the less cost-effective option for some businesses.
Requires the internet
The dependency on a reliable internet connection may mean Microsoft 365 is not a viable option for some businesses, particularly those that have users frequently working offline, or those in areas with flaky connectivity. While Microsoft 365 doesn’t require a continual connection, users need to connect regularly to sustain the subscription status, maintain security patches and ensure files and data are properly synced.
Pros of Office 2021
Buy once, use forever
One of the most appealing aspects of Office 2021 is the one-time payment structure that means businesses can pay upfront for lifetime access to important software. This protects businesses against any price increases associated with inflation or market changes, making affordability a one-time consideration.
Office 2021 gives businesses access to the classic – and crucial – Microsoft productivity applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For users who need these traditional pieces of software but don’t require advanced collaboration tools, Office is a complete and reliable suite.
Offline working ability
Following the initial installation of the software, Office 2021 allows users to work entirely offline, with all power and storage coming from the local disk. This is a major benefit for those businesses and/or users who frequently find themselves working without an internet connection, or in places where connectivity is unreliable.
Cons of Office 2021
With no automatic security updates, Office 2021 may be considered inherently less secure than Microsoft 365 – although its offline nature does mean it is arguably less exposed. That said, when comparing Office 2021 and Microsoft 365, the lack of ongoing security updates in the face of evolving cyber threats could mean Office poses too much of a risk for some businesses. While manual security updates are available, it’s important to note that Office 2021 will only be supported until October 2026.
No multiple access
Office 2021’s licence restricts users to using the software on one device. While this won’t cause too much of an issue for users who only ever use one laptop, this limitation can prove prohibitive for businesses that require flexibility to access applications and files from multiple devices.
None of the latest features
Office 2021 lacks the cloud-based structure and collaborative tools found in Microsoft 365, and this means there is no access to any new features or tools that may be added to the Microsoft environment. If users want to update their applications to include the latest features, they will need to purchase a newer version of Office.
When choosing between Office 2021 and Microsoft 365, the best fit will ultimately depend on the specific needs of your business and the circumstances of your users.
You should choose Microsoft 365 if:
You should choose Office 2021 if:
Price: £249.99*, one-time purchase
With a fixed, one-time purchase price, Office 2021 makes it easy to budget for critical productivity software. The cost is for installation on one PC or Mac, and includes classic versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook as desktop apps.
Learn more about Office 2021 pricing.
Price: from £4.90 user/month*
Microsoft 365 offers several subscription plans, with prices varying according to the features and applications included in each plan. Subscriptions range from Business Basic to E5 for enterprises, with each package catering to different business needs. Prices are given per user for either annual or monthly renewal.
Popular plans include:
Microsoft 365 Apps
Includes desktop, web and mobile app versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, with 1TB of OneDrive storage per user, standard security and anytime Microsoft support. £8.60 user/month.
Microsoft 365 Business Standard
Includes everything in the Apps subscription plus business-class email, Teams (including calls for up to 300 attendees), SharePoint and Exchange. £10.30 user/month.
Microsoft 365 Business Premium
Includes everything in Business Standard, plus advanced security, access and data control and cyberthreat protection. £18.10 user/month.
Learn more about Microsoft 365 plans and pricing.
H3: Installing Microsoft 365 vs Office 2021
How to install Office 2021
At BCN, we don’t offer support for Office 2021 installation, primarily because Microsoft have made it such a simple, step-by-step process. Once you’ve made your purchase, got your product key and downloaded the suite, it’s a simple case of following the on-screen instructions. Steps include:
How to install Microsoft 365
As a cloud-based suite, Microsoft 365 is a little more complex to set up. BCN provides comprehensive support to help businesses plan for their migration, implement the setup and ensure the smoothest possible transition.
We know that every business has its own way of working, so our team of Microsoft-accredited experts takes the time to understand your existing infrastructure and applications so we can ensure you’re getting the best out of your Microsoft 365 environment moving forwards.
We can support your Microsoft 365 setup with:
Learn more about how BCN can support setting up Microsoft 365 for your business.
There’s plenty to think about when it comes to choosing the best Microsoft software for your business. If you need help deciding whether Office 2021 or Microsoft 365 aligns best with your business goals and workflow preferences, we can help.
*Prices as of January 2024