Many people find out that Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription service at the worst time. You go to edit in Word or join in on SharePoint, and wait—what?
You thought you were set, but now a paywall stands between you and your goal.
Don’t get out your credit card just yet. There are some options you should try first.
I know, the prospect of a free Microsoft Office 365 download sounds kind of farfetched. But it’s not. If there is a legal way that you don’t have to pay, you’ll find it here.
Free Microsoft Office 365 and NOT Office Online
Microsoft isn’t known for giving away free anything, but with the rise of G Suite and its versatile document capabilities, they put out limited free versions of Office for desktop and mobile.
Although you’re looking for a free download of Office 365, I should mention two easy, free-forever Office options just in case they do the trick.
Get Office Online
Office Online is entirely cloud-based and works on most browsers. As long as you have the internet, you have access to familiar MS Office tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as Sway, OneNote, Outlook, Calendar, OneDrive, Forms, People, and Skype. Simply create an account and log in from anywhere to collaborate with anyone.
While Office Online doesn’t take up any space, the downside is that you need the internet in order to use the programs and your documents. If you can rely on wifi wherever you need it, this limitation isn’t so bad. Plus, you can always sync your computer with OneDrive so that files are automatically stored for offline access.
The features are greatly limited compared to Office 365, but for personal use, it’s probably okay as long as you plan ahead. The extra logistics required to coordinate larger teams using Office Online, however, probably don’t end up saving much money.
Get the Office mobile app
The Office mobile app works on Android and iOS on your phone or tablet. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are combined into a single app that syncs with all of your devices that use Office.
You can download additional apps, which take up some space, but all of your documents are stored in the cloud. You’ll be able to create and sign PDFs, and edit documents, tables, and slides—but be aware that the editing features are limited without the Office 365 subscription.
Similar to Office Online, the mobile app is okay for personal needs but quickly reveals itself wanting at the enterprise level.
Note: Editing in the Office mobile app is limited to screens up to 10.1 inches. If you have a larger screen, you will have to upgrade to Office 365 or be stuck in read-only.
On to the ways to get a full free Office 365.
1. Get Office 365 through your school
Microsoft offers Office 365 Education for free through many schools and universities. If you are a student or educator, and your institution is eligible, all you need is a valid school email address.
This is a truly free version of Office 365, and you should enjoy this benefit for as long as possible. In addition to your familiar MS apps, it comes with tools to encourage collaboration in the classroom, like Access, Sway, Teams, SharePoint, Stream, and Flow.
Every so often, Office will verify you are still are still an active educator or student. Once your Office 365 Education plan expires, applications will become view-only after 30 days. After 60, you will lose access. To keep working, you will need to subscribe to Office 365, or back up your files and use Office Online.
If you used to be a student, see if your school address will work. If not, access the alumni discount they offer for Office 365 Personal.
2. Get the free trial of Office 365
This is the easiest free option for accessing premium versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. But it only lasts for a month. After that, you’ll have to begin a subscription or use one of the other methods here.
Note: You will have to provide payment information to sign up for the free trial, though you won’t be charged until the trial expires. When it does, you will start getting billed automatically.
Remember to turn off recurring billing in your Account Settings unless you want to start paying.
Unlike the online version, when Office 365 is installed locally you have full document editing capabilities offline. You can share the free Office 365 trial version with up to five other people. Each person gets 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage, plus the ability to sync and share files across Windows, Apple, and Android devices.
This is a great option, but only for the short-term. You only get a single free trial per email and credit card, so unless you try to bend the terms of the license agreement, it’s a one-shot deal. Or is it?
3. Get the free trial of Office 365 ProPlus
Microsoft provides evaluation versions of its products to potential customers through its Evaluation Center. There you can test-drive the latest features and services the company offers, including Office 365 ProPlus. First, you’ll need to register an Office 365 ProPlus account and qualify for an evaluation account.
Note: Same as the trial version of Office 365, the ProPlus trial requires payment information and bills you after a month.
Once you have access to the full evaluation version of Office 365 ProPlus, you can share and manage up to 25 users. It comes with all of the premium Office tools, not just web apps, and Skype for Business. Streaming installation for up to five computers per user allows everyone to work offline with full editing capabilities.
Since it is an evaluation version, Microsoft is still working out the kinks of this software. Things may not work perfectly, so be prepared.
This is Microsoft’s way of hooking enterprise customers, and it is a sleek toolkit for any company. But if you are not looking to pay once the trial is up, you will have to back up and switch to something else.
Tip: G Suite Business isn’t free, but its pricing is competitive and the functionality works well for agile companies.
4. Convince your company to get Office 365
If your need for Office 365 is strictly personal, this may be a tough sell. But if you constantly find yourself in need of full-versions of Word or Excel, you probably have a strong case to make to your employer.
Office Online is great, considering it’s free, but the lack of function or offline capability can be extremely frustrating. If these things are getting in the way and costing you time, it’s likely costing the company more money a subscription would.
This isn’t always going to work—especially if you are your own boss, sorry freelancers—but I told you we were looking at every option to get Office 365 free of charge.
5. Free Office 365 (with purchase of a PC)
Here’s an option that is not going to be right for everyone, but if you are in the market for a new computer, this could be an answer. Some PCs come with one year of Office 365. This sometimes includes ultra-affordable laptops, and you still save $99 annually on an Office 365 subscription.
One thing to make sure of is that you are getting what you want. Some computers will only come with Office 365 Personal, and others may not even have an OS installed. Read the fine print and confirm everything is set up as you expect.
Dubious methods and hacking
Similar to giving Microsoft multiple credit cards or emails in an attempt to prolong your free trial of Office 365, there are other dubious methods out there. These are not always safe for you and may be illegal.
I mention them because your search has no doubt included these options, and many are disguised as genuine with a price that is too good to be true.
For example, you will find people offering Office 365 for $1 on eBay and other sites. This will get you a product key that maybe works, and definitely isn’t legal. Typically, you can use these accounts for one year, or until Microsoft detects that your key is not legitimate.
There are also videos and blogs that show you how to hack Office 365 by emulating a successful KMS activation. These authors claim that the KMS license key is legal, which may be true, depending on how the code is written. But installing the key to access licenses you never bought is certainly not legal.
Plus, whatever patch you copy into your system may have other functions you don’t want. A hacker wrote it after all. For us, we don’t consider it worth the risk.
This goes, too, for any free Office 365 you discover on torrents and other sites that get shut down periodically. With an illegal free version of Office 365 you may get more than you pay for in the worst way.
Final note: If you have to pay… it’s really not that bad!
In the end, Office 365 is an extremely valuable set of programs. Getting it for $99/year is pretty amazing.
I understand why it’s annoying, especially in the eleventh hour when your documents are out of reach. Trust me, I get it. But I also understand that the software of this century requires ongoing maintenance for security and integration. The game has changed and it’s not necessarily evil for companies to move to a subscription model.
Of course there are people who will disagree with me.
LibreOffice is a free fully-loaded office suite. Over 200 million people use the open-source program, which supports more than 200 file types. It’s got Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, and a number of other applications that are recognizable to any user of Word, etc.
There are Google’s free offerings as well, which solve most personal needs for document creation, sharing, and storage. For enterprise needs, though, G Suite for Business is reasonably priced and has a higher user satisfaction score than Office 365.
Use the trials to figure out where you stand. If Office 365 is what you need, budget it in and write it off next year. Here’s a guide to help you make sense of the Office 365 pricing.
Did I miss any other legitimate ways to get Office 365 free? Did you successfully convince your company to buy subscriptions of Office 365 for everyone? Pass on the advice!