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The most popular desktop application in the world, Office 2021 is the most recent iteration of Microsoft's office suite. The latest version is quicker and has some useful features. For instance, it now ships with Microsoft Teams and allows for real-time translation of other languages into Outlook. It's okay if Office 2021 isn't a radical departure from the killer suite. The 2021 edition of the suite has a minimal learning curve and will seem reassuringly familiar to those who have used previous versions of the suite. After upgrading, you'll find enough new features to make it worthwhile to spend the money, but you can also swiftly return to work. The office suite Office 2021 is unquestionably the Editors' Choice winner.
How Much Does Office 2021 Cost?
Office 2021 is priced at $439.99 (students pay $149.99). The year 2021 indicates that this is a perpetual license edition, which you can purchase once and use indefinitely, or until you choose to update.
Additionally, Office is available from Microsoft as a subscription service called Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365), which you can purchase by the month or year. Purchasers of the perpetual license version receive security updates on a bimonthly basis, but they are not eligible for Microsoft's monthly feature rollout. Generous OneDrive online storage as well as other perks are also lost. Should you be a corporate IT manager or simply dislike subscriptions, the perpetual-license version is what you should go for.
While we focus on Office Professional 2021 for Windows here, much of the information also applies to Office for Mac, which is now available with a permanent license. If Office 2021 is already part of your Microsoft 365 subscription, Office 2021 won't bring any surprises. You'll find new and generally better features that you might find worthwhile if you're using an older perpetual-license edition, like Office 2019, Office 2016, or earlier versions. More on those in a bit.
Several capabilities that were previously exclusive to Office's browser-based version are now included in the desktop applications. For instance, you can now coauthor papers in real time with the Office 2021 desktop apps, which come with visible cues about who else is working on the page and where they are making changes.
What's New in Office 2021?
If you’re upgrading from the 2019 version, here’s a list of the major new features. Keep mind that these will be new only if you’re coming from an earlier perpetual-license version. Microsoft 365 subscribers saw these features added gradually over the past two years.
- Excel has formulas that immediately return an array of values, a function that assigns names to the results of calculations so that you can use those names in a formula, a function that returns the relative position of an item in a range of cell, and customized views for individual sheets.
- PowerPoint lets you replay animations in which you apply freehand inking to a slide and adds a feature that lets you create a link to a specific slide and send the link to a colleague, with an option to let them edit it.
- Outlook gets on-the-fly translations, faster searches, freehand inking, and more.
- For the first time, Office ships with Microsoft Teams, Microsoft’s answer to Slack.
None of these new features are revolutionary. If you’re already running the 2016 or 2019 version, and you don’t really need these new 2021 improvements, you don't need to spend money on the new version. If you’re setting up a new computer, however, and you don’t have an existing license for Office, then you won’t regret starting with the 2021 edition. If you’re upgrading from a previous version, keep in mind that Microsoft, unlike many other vendors, doesn’t offer reduced-price upgrades. You pay the same amount, whether you’re just starting out with Office or have been using it since the previous century.
How to Buy Office 2021
When you attempt to purchase Office 2021, Microsoft explicitly states that you should subscribe to Microsoft 365 in lieu of purchasing a perpetual license. Go to the Microsoft 365 page and choose "Personal and Family" or "Business," depending on which edition you want, to see the opportunity to purchase a perpetual license.
After choosing Personal and Family, a sizable comparison table will appear as you scroll down. There is a $149.99 one-time purchase option for Office Home & Student 2021 on the upper right corner for both PC and Mac. Outlook isn't included in this version.
Go all the way down to "Looking for Office as a one-time purchase? "if you choose Business. Compare the items. Selecting that choice will take you to a page where the $249.99 perpetual license offer is shown.
My test version of Office was the premium 2021 edition ($439.99), which comes with Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft Access in addition to the standard programs. This version is available for purchase straight from Microsoft or via other websites like Amazon.com.
Additionally, Microsoft offers a new, feature-limited LTSC (Long-Term Service Channel) version that is exclusively accessible to volume license buyers and is intended for businesses with infrequent plans to upgrade their systems.
Microsoft released Windows 11 to the public on the same day that Office 2021 was made available, however Office 2021 does not require Windows 11. Office 2021 comes with a 32-bit version, and the setup procedure will install it on a 32-bit Windows system automatically if you're among the relatively tiny number of users who must use 32-bit Windows because some of your applications won't run on 64-bit versions. Only 64-bit versions of Windows 11 are available, however Microsoft will support 32-bit versions of Windows 10 until 2025.
You Know These Apps
It's a certainty that a great many PCMag readers already know their way around Microsoft Office, so we're only taking a brief look at each of the major apps in the suite, and we're keeping the emphasis on new features. For those who want deeper dives on the components, we'll be writing full reviews of several of the bigger ones as we use them over the coming months.
Microsoft Word, the Wordsmith's Choice
With every new edition, the most powerful word processor ever created becomes more user-friendly. Word has so many sophisticated capabilities that sometimes you have to look for them. Thankfully, Word and the other programs come with a handy feature-search box right in the title bar. For every phrase you type, the new search bar also returns Help topics. If, like the majority of users, you are unable to recall that the Ribbon menu's Insert tab contains the menus for altering headers and footers, simply type the word "Header" into the feature-search field in Word, and it will direct you to the appropriate location inside the Ribbon.
Still, there are a few gaps. The feature-search field isn't very helpful if you're seeking for the Master Document feature, which allows you to create a huge document from individual editable chapters unless you know that you need to first switch the View setting from Print Layout to Outline.
The feature search for Microsoft Office 2021
The Word multiple-pane interface functions flawlessly when you use a mouse: Simply click the Proofing pane to fix your grammar and spelling. However, accessing the Proofing pane and choosing the desired option can be somewhat difficult if you rely just on the keyboard. As you can see in the screenshot below, I still don't know how to navigate the Proofing pane with the keyboard.
PowerPoint 2021 Proofing Page
Notwithstanding these little criticisms, Word excels over all competitors in ways that are advantageous to both novice and expert users. Novices can select from thousands of sophisticated template designs that can be downloaded straight from Word's New menu. The most feature-rich programming language available in any word processor, Visual Basic for Applications, is available to advanced users. This language may be used in PowerPoint and Excel. Although learning the language is not simple, anyone can pick up the essentials by recording a macro and using Word's built-in Visual Basic editor to examine the generated code. Furthermore, you may certainly locate what you need among the numerous macros that people have uploaded online if you can't program Word to do what you want.
Office 2021 includes a Focus mode for when you're attempting to focus on your work, which is a good acknowledgement to the trend toward writing programs that don't allow distractions. To quickly transition to a full-screen editing mode without menus displayed, simply click the Focus button located on the toolbar at the bottom of the window. From there, you can use the buttons at the top to either close the file or return the standard window. Focus mode only works with one monitor in a two-monitor configuration, so if you want complete distraction-free viewing, you'll need to turn off your second monitor.
With regard to speed and functionality, Excel has always surpassed all other spreadsheet applications, and the most recent version doesn't change that. When working with large, complex worksheets, the 2021 version appears to be marginally faster than the 2019 version; however, the main benefit of upgrading to the new version is its increased feature set.
The clever new XLOOKUP function makes it simple to see a value from a wide range of information. For instance, you might have two columns: one for stock symbols and the other for the stocks' current prices. You can go to any other place in your worksheet and designate a cell to be used for typing in a stock symbol and another to be used for displaying the price of the stock you have typed in. (The XLOOKUP formula is created in this second cell.)
Excel XLOOKUP feature in Microsoft Office 2021
You don't need to know in advance how many rows your table will have because of a new dynamic array feature that allows you to set a formula in the first column of the table that returns data from every row in the database, regardless of how many rows it contains. The ability to start with two columns, one with first names and the other with last names, and have the program automatically construct a new column that merges the first and last names into full names is extended by this feature, which is a clever and little-known feature from previous editions.
Another noteworthy addition to shared workbooks is the ability to quickly and easily build a custom sheet view that shows only the data you wish to work with. Other users who are simultaneously working on the same workbook can also create custom views of their own. To put it another way, you are limited to seeing a certain section of a data set, while another user on the same sheet can show a different portion. I took the screenshot below on the macOS version since I was unable to get the sheet view to show up on my Windows PC for unknown reasons. Microsoft hasn't provided me with an explanation for this bug.
Installation: Easy or Near-Impossible
You can get a pop-up window asking you to purchase or test the new version of Office if you're still using an earlier, non-subscription version of the program. You can install the upgrade with ease if you follow the instructions. If you currently own a version without a subscription, upgrading via the Microsoft Store is a simple process.
Nevertheless, Microsoft does not uninstall the previous version when you install the new one, so your system may become confused about which version to use. After installing the new version, it makes sense to remove the previous one. Remember that in the event that issues arise following the removal of the previous version, you might need to perform a repair installation of the updated version.
You should prepare to go through a few more procedures if you're attempting to convert a Microsoft 365 installation that is subscription-based to a perpetual license. Launch one of the Office apps after installing Office 2021, select the File menu, click the Account tab, and then select Product Information. Click the Change License button if it indicates that you are using Office 365 or a previous version of Office. Next, select "Use a different account" from the dialog box that appears if you are already signed into your Microsoft account and the email address associated with that account is shown. Next, locate the tiny text that reads "Enter a product key instead." At last, the dialog box appears where you can input your product key to launch Office 2021. Simply click the Change License button and locate the link that reads "Enter a product key instead" if you're not logged into your Microsoft account.
If everything works out, that's the method to go from Office with a subscription model to Office with a perpetual license. Upon attempting this change on my test PC, a few Office applications continued identifying themselves as Microsoft 365 editions. Excel persisted in claiming that I was using the 365 version even after I attempted to delete Microsoft 365. Because of how frequently this issue arises, Microsoft has created an Office uninstall help tool (look it up if you need it) that is meant to remove the 365 version.
Even Microsoft's cleaning tool was unable to completely remove all signs of previous iterations and enable me to perform a clean installation of Office 2021. The only way I was able to get things sorted out in the end was to remove every Office-related folder from my Program Files and AppData directories, as well as every Office entry from the Windows Registry.
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