The good news is Office 2013 works quite well without an Internet connection. SkyDrive is an Internet-based storage service, but it can also automatically save copies of all your files on every computer you use. That way, you can still open files when you're offline. Any changes you make will sync with the online copy later. I've tricked it by making different changes from different computers. Word managed to merge them.
And as I mentioned earlier, you're getting the full version of Office installed on your computer, not a copy that runs on your Web browser over the Internet. That means you're not losing most of the program's functionality when you're offline.
I've had only a few days to try out the new Office, so there are plenty of hard-core functions I have yet to discover. I've focused on Word and Excel for my test. The basic, Office 365 Home Premium subscription package also comes with PowerPoint for presentations, OneNote for note-taking, Outlook for e-mail, Publisher for desktop publishing and Access for databases. Packages geared for businesses will come later.
Microsoft will continue selling software the traditional way, for a one-time fee for one Windows computer. I use "traditional" loosely, though. If you buy it at a retail store, you're getting only a 25-character code, which you use to activate the software after downloading it at home.
At any rate, packages start at $140 for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote ($20 more than the comparable Office 2010 package). You get Outlook as well for $220 and all seven programs for $400. You can also buy them a la carte — $70 for OneNote and $110 for any of the others. Consider that just $30 more gets you four programs.
If you have just one computer, the one-time fee is clearly for you. If you have two, it might still be cheaper to buy it the traditional way. You'd pay $280 for the basic package, compared with $300 over three years. I'm still running Office software from 2006 on an old iMac. That's less than $25 a year at today's prices, compared with $100 for a subscription.
Of course, the subscription gets you more, including access to all seven programs, not just four. You can change which five computers work with the subscription if you upgrade a machine or send a kid to college. You also get 20 additional gigabytes of storage on SkyDrive, on top of the 7 GB that comes for free, plus 60 minutes of free international calls a month on Skype.
Although Microsoft hasn't updated Office for Apple computers yet, the subscription will let you install Office 2011 on a Mac and give you a new version when it comes out, likely next year. The value proposition will grow even more if Microsoft ever makes versions that run on the iPad and Android devices. For now, the only tablets supported are those running Windows.
Office 2013 will require either Windows 7 or 8. With the subscription, you also get Office On Demand, which allows you to temporarily install copies on additional machines, such as that of a friend you are visiting. It's not the full experience, but it'll do. You won't lose your documents if you end your subscription one day, but you'll be limited to viewing and printing them.
Besides Google Docs, I've also used a number of free or cheaper options, including OpenOffice and Apple's Pages and Numbers. Yet I've repeatedly found myself coming back to Microsoft's Office. It's not cheap, but you're getting something far more versatile, whether you decide on a subscription or just a one-time payment.
Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology editor for The Associated Press, can be reached at njesdanun(at)ap.org.
About Office 2013:
Microsoft updated its Office package to support touch-screen features and emphasize online file storage. It's also pushing to sell the new Office 2013 as a subscription, with recurring fees of $100 a year or $10 a month, which is $20 more expensive for the full year. A subscription works with up to five Windows and Mac computers or Windows tablets. Mac users get Office 2011 until a new version comes out. Office 2013 is also available the traditional way, for a one-time fee that starts at $140 for a single Windows computer.