Microsoft makes Office 365 free for students

by | Mar 17, 2015 | Biz/Tech, News

Microsoft Canada is offering its Office 365 online suite for free to eligible students. (Willy Phan/Humber News)

Microsoft Canada is offering its Office 365 online suite for free to eligible students. (Willy Phan/Humber News)

By Willy Phan

Students across Canada will be able to access Microsoft Office programs for free as of Monday, although not all schools have signed up, including Humber College.

Eligible students will be given access to the entire Office 365 suite through the Office for Students program, which includes the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, said Microsoft Canada in a press release.

The company said the Office for Students bundle features one terabyte of cloud storage on OneDrive and Office Online for in-browser editing.

Microsoft’s vice-president of education Marc Seaman expressed the company’s desire to make the Office desktop programs more accessible for students in need.

“Microsoft recognizes that in today’s environment, barriers – whether they are technical or financial – that separate students from such tools must be overcome,” said Seaman in the statement.

“By making Office for Students free of charge, we are removing that barrier and freeing students to choose the technology platform they want, based solely on preference,” he said.

An annual household subscription to the online-based Office 365 costs $99 on Microsoft’s online store.

Microsoft said eligible students and their parents will receive full access to Office 365 on their PCs and Macs, along with tablets and smartphones operating on Android and iOS platforms.

Users can access their saved documents on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage from multiple devices with Office 365.

“If you don’t already have access to Office, this is an exciting announcement,” said Ryan Burton, the director of IT planning and client services at Humber College.

Drawbacks to Office 365

Burton told Humber News that there were some limitations to Microsoft’s Office for Students program.

“What they’re providing you is access to an online version of Office,” said Burton. “It’s not a situation where you’re getting the discs to install Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.” said Burton.

Alternatively, a non-subscription to Office Home and Student 2013 edition sells for $139 from Microsoft and allows for direct installation onto a single PC.

The mandatory cloud storage of files on Microsoft’s OneDrive and perpetual need for an Internet connection also raises some concerns of privacy and security in the Office for Students program.

Ryerson business student Dennis Yip said he already uses Word, Excel and PowerPoint frequently and has minimal concerns about his school work being kept on cloud storage.

“I  have nothing to hide as a student,” said Yip, a third-year finance and marketing major.

However, Burton remains concerned about how and where Microsoft stores the files of its Office 365 users.

“Your data [on cloud storage], regardless of its sensitivity, resides in another jurisdiction, which can troubling especially in today’s security-minded world,” said Burton.

Brand promotion for Microsoft

The Office for Students program also appears to be a strategic move by Microsoft to promote brand loyalty among its users while combating software piracy and discouraging the use of competing office suites.

Students already have alternative options to create and edit documents for free with other office suites such as Google Docs, Apple’s iWork, and LibreOffice.

“If you’re learning how to use Office and there are some things that you don’t like about the free offer… maybe you’ll go to the one of the paid subscriptions,” said Burton.

“I think that also once they have your data, you may not be willing to part with it so you might be willing to continue on with your subscription once you are no longer a student and entitled to receive the software for free at no additional costs,” continued Burton.

Humber to evaluate Office for Students program

Humber College is one of the largest polytechnic institutions in the country, but Humber students will have to wait a bit longer to see if they are eligible to access Microsoft’s online suite.

“Humber is going to review what Microsoft is offering here and weigh that against its existing offer to students,” said Burton. “(Humber) students currently today can actually download the actual version of Office at no additional costs.”