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

Using, it's easy to see at a glance all of your documents, spreadsheets and presentations under the "My Office" section. The clean, uncluttered layout looks great, but organizing and syncing your documents between and SkyDrive can be confusing. For example, I wasn't able to create new folders in "My Office" to throw existing docs into. New folders have to be created from within the program applications, but when I created a folder and added an existing doc in SkyDrive, it didn't immediately sync to Although I could see the doc in, I got a message saying it was no longer available when I attempted to open it. All edits and changes to content should sync with versions that live elsewhere, but there's definitely a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how one cloud platform communicates with the other.

When you open a document within, you have the option of editing it in the full-fledged application (if it lives on your device) or within the web browser, using an abbreviated "web app" version of that application. Either way, all changes will sync to SkyDrive. I tested the cloud syncing using a Samsung ATIV Smart PC with Office 365 installed locally and ran into issues only once while working in Word. At one point, the cloud syncing of my edits stalled, but this could have been due to my weak WiFi signal or the device's battery, which was on its last legs. I was charger-less and when my device shut itself down, my edits hadn't completely synced to SkyDrive.

Luckily, an offline copy was saved. Still, it's disappointing when compared to the almost instantaneous auto-saving of web apps like Google Docs. With Office 365, your work has to be actively saved as you go.

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On the flip side, the limitations of competing web apps like Google's means that users have to contend with water-downed versions of Word or Excel, whereas Microsoft's web apps definitely feel more robust in terms of features and functionality.

Sharing and collaborating with others can also be enabled through and SkyDrive, although real-time edits and changes aren't obvious at first. If two or more people are working on a document at the same time, each person has to click "Save" to see the most recent edits appear. An easy-to-miss message at the bottom of the window states "Updates Available" to alert you to new edits, but these still won't appear in the document until you click "Save" to refresh. It all feels a bit counterintuitive to the collaboration process.

Office on Demand
Signing into also allows you to stream a full-featured version of Office to any PC running Windows 7 or 8. It's a service dubbed Office on Demand, and is ideal when you're using a PC that isn't your own, say, at a hotel or different office within your company. I tried using Office on Demand to stream the full version of Word to a Surface RT tablet, hoping since it already ran Windows 8, it might recognize the tablet as a PC. It didn't work. My documents opened in Word's web app instead. Office on Demand is a novel feature, but could potentially be hampered by the unpredictability of users running into PCs with older, incompatible versions of Windows.

One cool feature of Office 365 is the ability to access documents even if they aren't already stored in the cloud. By downloading the SkyDrive desktop app at work, you can remotely fetch docs that live on your home PC for example, in case you didn't them initially sync them to SkyDrive. A few caveats though, the remote PC you're accessing has to be turned on, connected to the internet and have SkyDrive running with the "Fetch Files" setting enabled.

Bottom Line
So is it worth paying Microsoft $99.99 a year for a version of Office that is connected and constantly evolving?

Office 365 Home Premium is a great value for families who are going to install it on multiple machines and makes sense for busy professionals who work frequently on the go, but the typical PC user might find that sticking to the previous version of Office and using SkyDrive separately to store and access their most important documents in the cloud, works just as well.

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