Microsoft Office 2007 isn't cheap. The full standard edition lists for $399, with other editions range between $149 and $499.
Besides rare promotions like last year's "Ultimate Steal," Microsoft will discount its lowest-end edition, Office Home and Student 2007, to under $100 during back-to-school and Christmas seasons.
That edition, different than Microsoft's separate academic editions (more on that later), is available to anyone. But it lacks Outlook e-mail, a key feature for many folks.
So let's say you're still weighing a move to Office 2007. However, a) you can't imagine paying full or even upgrade price when there free, worthy alternatives such as Google Docs, Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice.org, ThinkFree, Zoho, and others abound; and b) you don't want to wait until next year, when Microsoft launches Office 14 and will, as senior vice-president Chris Capossela confirmed this week, offer at least one version of Office 14 via the Web for free?
Tight times, equal measures
There are two established ways to buy Microsoft Office on the cheap. One is the OEM version. Aimed at PC makers and do-it-yourselfers, this edition is entirely legal for consumers to buy. With it, you can get the Home and Student Edition for $80, or the Standard edition for $225, which represents significant discounting.
The disadvantage is that you can only install Office on one PC. Full retail versions let you install the software on two PCs, except for Home and Student versions, which allows 3. And if you have to replace a defective motherboard, it's likely Microsoft will count that as a new PC and disable the software.
The second way is to buy an academic version of Office. Like with the OEM version, users are restricted to installing the software on one PC. And buyers are technically required to be a student, teacher or a parent buying on behalf of a student.
Academic versions can net even more savings than buying an OEM version. A Standard edition of Office, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, costs $130 from one reseller.
Many of the resellers don't require you to present a copy of a current student ID. While the practice may seem widespread, technically it isn't permitted under Microsoft's rules.
It's nice to be appreciated
Fortunately, there are two lesser-known ways to get Office legally for even cheaper, provided you qualify.
Current military personnel, veterans and their dependents are all eligible for Microsoft's Military Appreciation Edition of Office 2007. This is the full Standard edition of Office, except for that users can install it on up to three PCs.
Normally going for about $80, says the blog Office Watch, the Military Appreciation edition is being offered for just $49.99 until June 30th at the Army and Air Force's online stores, and at Naval, Coast Guard and Marine base stores.
There are tens of millions of people who qualify for the military edition. There are three million active U.S. military personnel, along with an estimated 23 million veterans today (Excel download here), according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In addition, there are probably "many more than ten million" dependents of military veterans and personnel, according to Rich Cohen, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates Inc., (NOVA) a Washington D.C. advocacy group. Cohen added that this was the first of this kind of high-tech discount he had heard of aimed at veterans and their families.
What if you're not a vet? Then there's still an even cheaper option: Get your boss to buy it for you for $30.
If you work at a large enterprise or governmental organization that buys Microsoft Office, then you're probably eligible to get Office 2007 at home for $30 through Microsoft's Home Use Program.
Companies may have any Microsoft volume license, provided that they are also subscribing to Software Assurance.
The only exceptions to the Home Use Program might be schools or universities, which typically get even heavier discounts from Microsoft and thus might be ineligible, says the Office Watch blog.
Companies need to pay about $30 per worker to cover the cost of the DVD. Under this program, users get the enterprise edition, which additionally has OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath, Groove and Communicator -- everything you need to be a power telecommuter.
Why would Microsoft offer this? Office Watch says it helps cut down on employee software piracy as well as gives Microsoft more leverage when pushing companies to renew their SA agreements.
The main restriction is that if the organization stops subscribing to Software Assurance, or if the employee quits or is laid off then the software rights are terminated.