Microsoft launched Office 2019 late last year, but the new ad campaign makes it pretty clear the company would really prefer that you didn’t buy it. Instead, Microsoft’s latest twins challenge ads, which pits Office 2019 and Office 365 against each other by having three sets of identical twins complete the same tasks in both versions to determine which is better. The end result, Microsoft concludes you’d be much better off with a monthly or yearly subscription to Office 365.

The Office suite has been one of Microsoft’s biggest cash-cows for the company since its first release in 1987. Every three years or so, the company has release upgrades to all the apps mainly targeted at business users. However, in 2011 Microsoft replaced Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) with Office 365 and the whole game changed. It is not clear that there will be a new, static Office 2019 release in three years’ time. Neither is it clear that is really necessary.

Replace Office With Office 365

While Microsoft has never been shy about its cloud ambitions for Office 365 and that it wants users — both business and consumer — to move to Office 365, recently it has launched a new ad campaign that, for all intents and purposes, urges people to dump Office 2019 and move to Office 365.

Office 365 includes fully installed Office applications — including the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. And these apps keep getting better over time, with new capabilities delivered every month. Most importantly, Office 365 is connected to the cloud, so you can access your content from any device, co-author with anyone in real-time (regardless of whether or not they’ve purchased a copy of Office), and use the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to create more impactful content with less effort.

On the flip side, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, wrote that Office 2019 also delivers full installs of the Office apps we know and love — but they’re “frozen in time.” And despite the love, he continues: “They don’t ever get updated with new features, and they’re not cloud-connected. Also, Office 2019 doesn’t support real-time co-authoring across apps, and it doesn’t have the amazing AI-powered capabilities that come with Office 365.” So much for the love!

Related Article: 12 Productivity Tools Baked Into Office 365

Cloud-Licenses Replace Static Licenses

While the problem is not confined to Office 2019, it is a good example of the problem with static software licenses and, on the face of it, the advantages of moving to the cloud, said Todd Boutte, president of technology and operations at EVAN, an on-demand IT support platform.

He said Office 2019 for business was already outdated when it was released. Since introducing its subscription service, Office 365, in 2011, Microsoft began slowly shifting its development priorities to the 365 versions of its products. Once Office 365 reached feature parity with the retail release of Office 2013, its features and development pace began to overtake its retail counterpart. “Office 365 had definitively become the best place to receive the latest feature and design improvements across the Office product line. In fact, the Office 2019 release contains nothing that has not been available to Office 365 users for quite a long time,” Boutte said.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Boosting Productivity in Office 365 Through AI

Are Subscription Models Worth It?

While it seems like there are some unique benefits to paying a monthly subscription for Office 365, it may not be worth it for many individuals or business owners. Some of the features may not be useful or utilized enough to warrant the subscription. Jacob Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Community Tax, said it is possible that Microsoft will end up being similar to what Adobe did with its creative suite of applications. Adobe moved to a subscription service that automatically installs application updates as they roll out.

“It sounds nice, and is in many cases it is, but the problem is their subscription service is expensive and costs more over time than it would if you were to just buy the applications outright like you were able to before. Ultimately though, the subscription service may be useful for some companies/individuals who utilize the applications extensively,” Dayan said.

Levi Olmstead, the manager for SEO and community outreach with G2 Crowd, pointed out that almost all business software is in the cloud in 2019. Cloud products are easier to implement, have better support, and in general, are easier to use. “In my role at G2 for example, it's extremely rare for us to use on-premises tools. Our project management, CRM, email marketing, CMS, marketing automation tools are all cloud tools. We mainly use Google Sheets and Docs. The only on-premises tools I use are Excel, crawling tools for our website and photo editing tools,” he said.

Recently, RightScale released its 2019 State of the Cloud Report, built on a survey of 786 technology professionals at large and small enterprises across a multitude of industries, such as tech services, software, financial services, telecom, education, government and healthcare. The report focused on how enterprises are using clouds — rather than apps based in the cloud. The report showed, for example, that:

  • Enterprise cloud spend is significant and growing quickly - Enterprises plan to spend 24 percent more on public cloud in 2019 vs. 2018. Thirteen percent of enterprises spend more than $12 million a year on public cloud, while 50 percent spend more than $1.2 million annually.
  • Managing software licenses in the public cloud is top of mind - Understanding the cost implications of licensed software running in the cloud is also a key challenge (52 percent). Other challenges include understanding the complexity of license rules in public cloud (42 percent), and ensuring that they are following the rules (41 percent).

The cloud is definitely an attractive option for enterprises especially given there are more apps in any given subscription service suite than most users need. There are also quite a number of free options including LibreOffice and Google's free office web apps, the question that tech buyers need to answer for their enterprises is not whether cloud licenses are better than cloud-based apps, but whether they are happy doing all their computing out of the cloud.