What is Microsoft Office?

What you need to know about the most popular package of apps in the world

A screen shot of the Start menu on a Windows 10 machine with the Office apps showing.
Microsoft Office 2016 on Windows 10. Joli Ballew

Microsoft Office is a collection of office-related applications. Each application serves a unique purpose and offers a specific service to its users. For example, Microsoft Word is used to create documents. Microsoft PowerPoint is used to create presentations. Microsoft Outlook is used to manage email and calendars. There are others as well.

Because there are so many applications to choose from, and because not every user needs all of them, Microsoft groups the applications together in collections called “suites.” There’s a suite of applications for students, a suite for home and small business users, and a suite for large corporations. There’s even a suite for schools. Each of these suites is priced based on what’s included in it. 

What is Microsoft Office 365?

A picture of a chicken with two question marks beside it.
What is Microsoft Office?. OpenClipArt.org

The latest version of Microsoft Office is called Microsoft Office 365, but various versions of the suite have been around since 1988 including but not limited to Microsoft Office Professional, Microsoft Office Home and Student, and various collections of Microsoft Office 2016. Most people still refer to any version of the suite as Microsoft Office though, which makes distinguishing among editions difficult.

What makes Microsoft Office 365 stand out from older editions of MS Office is that it integrates all aspects of the apps with the cloud. It’s a subscription service too, which means users pay a monthly or yearly fee to use it, and upgrades to newer versions are included in this price. Previous versions of Microsoft Office, including Office 2016, didn’t offer all of the cloud features that Office 365 does, and was not a subscription. Office 2016 was a one-time purchase, just as other editions were, and as Office 2019 is expected to be.

Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium include all the Office apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, ​Outlook, and Publisher.

Who Uses MS Office and Why?

A cartoon picture of a lot of people standing together.
Microsoft Office is for everyone. Getty Images

Users who purchase a Microsoft Office suite typically do so when they discover that the apps included with their operating system aren’t robust enough to meet their needs. For example, it would be nearly impossible to write a book using only Microsoft WordPad, the word processing app that is included free with all editions of Windows. But it would certainly be feasible to write a book with Microsoft Word which offers many more features.

Businesses also use Microsoft Office. It’s a de facto standard among large corporations. The apps included in the business suites include those that can be used to manage large databases of users, perform advanced spreadsheet calculations, and create powerful and exciting presentations, complete with music and video.

Microsoft claims that over a billion people use their Office products. The Office suite is used all over the world. 

What Devices Support MS Office?

A picture of a lady using a phone to do work.
Microsoft Office is available for smart phones. Getty Images

To access everything Microsoft Office has to offer you need to install it on a desktop computer or laptop. There’s a version for Windows and Mac devices. You can also install MS Office on tablets though, and if the tablet can function as a computer, like the Microsoft Surface Pro, you can still get access to all of the features from there.

If you don’t have a computer or the one you have doesn’t support a full version of Office, you can use the Microsoft Office Online suite of applications.

There are apps for Microsoft Office for the iPhone and iPad as well, all of which are available from App Store. Apps for Android are available from Google Play. These do offer access to the MS applications, although they don’t offer the full functionality you’d have access to on a computer.

The Apps Included in Microsoft Office and How They Work Together

A Windows 10 Start menu with the Office 2016 apps available on it.
Microsoft Office 2016. Joli Ballew

The apps included in a specific Microsoft Office suite depend on the Microsoft Office package you select (as does the price). Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and ​Outlook. Office Home & Student 2016 (for PC only) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote. Business Suites have specific combinations as well, and include Publisher and Access.

Here’s a short description of the apps and their purpose:

  • Word – to create documents, flyers, publications
  • PowerPoint – to create presentations
  • Excel – to store, organize, and manipulate data
  • OneDrive – to store data online
  • OneNote – to organize data you collect including handwritten notes, drawings, screen captures, audio clips, and more
  • Publisher – to create extensive publications, posters, flyers, menus
  • Outlook  - to manage email and calendars, to do lists, and contacts
  • Access – to capture and analyze data from computers or networks

Microsoft has designed the applications in the suites to work together seamlessly. If you take a look at the list above you can imagine how many combinations of apps can be used together. For instance, you can write a document in Word and save it to the cloud using OneDrive. You can write an email in Outlook and attach a presentation you’ve created with PowerPoint. You can import contacts from Outlook to Excel to create a spreadsheet of the people you know, their names, addresses, and so on.

Mac Version
All Mac versions of Office 365 include Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

Android Version
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote.

iOS Version
Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote.