Deciding on subscription, perpetual license or free software

Similar to the decision-making process required to buy or lease your next car, leasing computer hardware was popularized for businesses before the "subscription" model, i.e. leasing [the right to use] software, started to also become an industry trend in the early 2010s.

Whether leasing computer hardware or subscribing for software usage, the concept is the same: you don't own anything when the lease/subscription ends.

Let's review the options:

• Buying software upfront gives you a perpetual license to use the software on one computer, akin to buying a car. You own it when paid upfront or financing is paid off.

• Buying a subscription to software is like leasing a car. You enter an annually renewable contract for a discounted monthly rate or opt for a month-to-month contract at a slightly higher rate. You use the software, just like you drive a leased car, but at the end of the subscription term, if you don't renew, you lose the usage rights. You never own it.

People often ask me questions about Microsoft's productivity suite "Office" and the options available. Formerly known as "Office 365 Home," recently rebranded as "Microsoft 365 for home" (really, can we stop confusing consumers?), it is a subscription offering: you lease the Office software for use on your personal computer, tablet, smartphone or the cloud.

That seems straightforward on the surface. Decide whether you need Office software for up to six people in your family or just one person, with an annual subscription commitment of $99.99 or $69.99 respectively.

Just like multiple TVs in a household became the norm by the late 20th century, we live in the duality of the real and digital worlds where multiple devices per person in a family is now common. Most, if not all, are also always connected to the cloud.

Then you see "Office Home & Student" for $149.99 next to it. This is the traditional perpetual license model that is still offered for non-commercial use on one computer. (If you are using Office to generate profit, you are considered a business and subject to business tier pricing.) For more information on features and pricing, visit and click on "Office."

Options are good, except when its confusing. One method to figure out the appropriate option is to compare total cost over three years. Calculating and comparing the upfront cost of the number of perpetual licenses you need to purchase versus the total subscription cost over the same term should give you an idea.

Talking about cost comparisons, a free software called "LibreOffice" ( should be in your considerations too. LibreOffice is Microsoft Office "compatible" meaning you can create, edit or save documents, spreadsheets or presentations that can be shared with Microsoft Office users.

In the next column, I'll talk about more free options, Google Gmail and Microsoft's Office Online, both free products that live on the internet, aka the cloud.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives while using digital literacy as a tool for seniors to avoid loneliness and social isolation

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Volume 12, Issue 13, Posted 10:04 AM, 07.07.2020