Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Review: Is it Worth $100 a Year?

PHOTO: An Excel spreadsheet in Office Web Apps, which lets users review and edit documents within a web browser.

Between my computer at work and the one at home, my tablet and my smartphone, the bits and pieces of information created and collected are getting harder and harder to keep track of. I imagine it's like being a mom to teenage kids. You know they exist, but damn it if they ever come home for dinner. Wouldn't it be nice to get everyone around the table once in a while?

Microsoft's equivalent of home base is the recently released Office 365 Home Premium, a subscription cloud service that allows anytime-anywhere access to your documents, across multiple devices. The main idea being that what you start on one device, whether a Word doc or PowerPoint presentation, can be picked up on another, exactly where you left off.

An Office that Lives in the Cloud
Microsoft bills the service as a "complete office in the cloud" and its strength is twofold: Subscribers get to use Microsoft's premier productivity suite while having multiple options for accessing their work. Besides local access, subscribers can get their content through one of three online platforms: Office.com, SkyDrive or Office on Demand. Having choices is convenient when you're on the go, especially when a lot of us are already working away from our desks - on a laptop at the coffee shop, a tablet on the plane, jotting quick notes on our smartphone.

A subscription is $100 a year and allows you to install Office 365 Home Premium on up to five devices. For college students and faculty, Office 365 University is essentially the same service, but installable on up to two devices. It retails for $80 for a four-year subscription.

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Users have access to the latest versions of Microsoft's flagship applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Outlook, Access, Publisher and OneNote are also included. When updates are released, subscribers receive them automatically.

Similar Look and Feel
But even with all these new connected features (more on that coming below), Office and all those included programs are still desktop programs, with a similar look and feel to Microsoft's previous version of Office. Microsoft has added a couple of tweaks, however. The ribbon, the toolbar that lines the top of each program with formatting and other tools, is now collapsed automatically, giving you more more space to just focus on your document, spreadsheet or presentation. Click on one of the menus and the ribbon with all its features and tools will appear.

One of the biggest changes to this version is the "tablet mode" setting. Given that Windows 8 was built around touch, the new setting adjusts the spacing of menus, making it easier to hit the targets. It's helpful, but the program is still very much built for mouse and keyboard input.

Synced Files and Settings
When you first install Office 365 Home Premium, you're asked to create or sign in with an existing Microsoft account (which can be the same as your log-in for other Microsoft products and services like Hotmail or Xbox Live). If you don't already have one, go ahead and create an account, it'll make it easier to sync your settings and content across all devices. I used my SkyDrive log-in, since I already have an account with the free online cloud storage service. Office 365 Home Premium subscribers get 20 GB of SkyDrive storage, compared with the free 7GB allotted to regular SkyDrive users.

Also new to Office is the ability for users to sign in, both within applications like Word or through their web browsers at Office.com, to access customized settings for each application. These are things like personalized background styles, ribbon setup, etc. As long as you're signed in, your settings will carry over to the platform you're working on. It's a nice touch, but not the most essential feature unless you're super picky about how your toolbars are laid out. I personally care more about features and functionality.

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