woman working on a laptop

Choosing the Right Microsoft Solution: Office 2021 vs. Business Premium

Microsoft offers a range of productivity solutions for nonprofits, each catering to slightly different needs. In what follows, we will compare two of these tools: the on-premises Office 2021 and the cloud-based Microsoft 365 Business Premium.

While we're focusing on the Office 2021 and Business Premium solutions here, note that there are plenty of other Microsoft cloud licensing plans available through TechSoup. In particular, your organization can mix and match between Microsoft 365 and Office 365 plans to fit your organization's needs. If the options feel a little overwhelming, try using our Microsoft Product Recommendation Tool to guide your decision-making.

drawing of a woman with a tablet and a man with a laptop, both in front of a computer screen showing charts and graphs

Below, you'll find a comparison of some key features of these two products, along with a table showing a snapshot of these features to help you decide.

What's Included

The major difference between Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 Business Premium is that Office 2021 is a one-time download of desktop Office applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), while Microsoft 365 Business Premium is a subscription service that includes significantly more apps, as well as access, collaboration, and security features.

Nonprofits are eligible to receive the first 10 licenses of Microsoft 365 Business Premium free of charge.*

Payment and Licensing

A key feature to consider is the way you pay for and use your Microsoft licenses. Office 2021, as with most on-premises solutions, is a perpetual license. This means that you pay for it once and can then use it for as long as you need. Software access for Office 2021 is per device, meaning the license will be tied to a single device. If you lose the device, you will need to repurchase the software.

On the other hand, Microsoft 365 Business Premium is a subscription service. You pay for the license on a monthly or annual basis, allowing you to spread out your technology spending over time, and you will always have the most recent version for as long as you pay. Access to the license is per user, meaning that you can sign in and access your license from any device. And again, the first 10 licenses are absolutely free to eligible nonprofits.

Internet Access

Office applications that are available through both Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 Business Premium can be used without an Internet connection. With Office 2021, you will just need to connect to the Internet for your initial software download. Your downloaded applications do not need an Internet connection to operate.

With Microsoft 365 Business Premium, you'll get access to both the web and desktop versions of your Office applications, meaning that you can use the desktop apps without an Internet connection. However, you'll need to connect to the Internet at least once every 30 days to ensure that your subscription is current. That said, staying connected to the Internet provides the added benefit of real-time collaboration, cloud storage, and backup features.

Updates and Security

Office 2021, along with all Microsoft licenses, can be downloaded from the Microsoft portal. Security updates are included in Office 2021, but no feature updates. In order to get an updated version of your apps, you will need to purchase a newer version of the software. There is also a limited time frame after which Microsoft will no longer support the software. The current version is set to be supported by Microsoft until October 2026.

With Microsoft 365 Business Premium, you'll benefit from all new features, functionality, and security updates for as long as you pay for the license. Microsoft will continue to support the license for as long as the subscription is active.

Microsoft 365 Business Premium comes with built-in advanced security features. These enable you to work securely on any device while defending you from malware and offering more robust cyber protection. They also ensure that you are in line with data-handling regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA and can use enhancements like multi-factor authentication and message encryption to reduce the risk of a security breach.

Comparison: Microsoft Office 2021 vs. Microsoft 365 Business Premium

This table shows a side-by-side summary of the features, costs, and licensing plans for Microsoft Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 Business Premium. To see these compared with all Microsoft 365 and Office 365 licenses, take a look at our PDF comparison sheet.

  Office 2021 Microsoft 365 Business Premium
Description Microsoft's traditional productivity software suite. Pay once for a license that you can use for as long as you like on a single computer. Standard and Professional Plus editions available, as well as Office for Mac. A full-featured cloud solution that includes desktop and web Office apps, OneDrive and SharePoint storage, email and calendar services, and upgrades to the latest version of Windows.
Cost $118 per license First 10 licenses free for paid staff; $5/user/month thereafter*
License Type Device-based; on-premises; pay once User-based cloud subscription
Best for Paid staff and volunteers. Shared access or public-access devices (like computer labs or training centers). Paid staff and volunteers. Note that the 10 free licenses must be used for paid staff. Discounted licenses are suitable for volunteers.
Number of Users Unlimited Up to 300
Office Applications Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Desktop Desktop and web
Access and Publisher N/A Desktop
Requires Internet Access for Office Applications No No, but you'll need to connect to the Internet at least once every 30 days to ensure that your subscription is current. You must be connected to the Internet in order to do real-time collaboration or save items to the cloud.
Upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise N/A Included
Email/Calendaring Exchange N/A Included
File Storage/Sites OneDrive, SharePoint N/A Included
Communications Teams N/A Included
Advanced Security Features N/A

Advanced Threat Protection

Azure Information Protection

Intune for endpoint management of devices and applications

Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection for Email

Install on Install on one computer Can be installed on up to five computers, tablets, or mobile devices

* Microsoft requires organizations to have at least 85 percent of assigned donated (free, granted) licenses to be actively used. "Assigned licenses" means licenses that have been assigned to a specific user within your organization. "Active use" means that those individuals have used at least one Microsoft cloud service in the last 90 days.

Costs are as of April 4, 2022, and are subject to change. Please visit https://www.techsoup.org/microsoft for the most up-to-date prices and a complete list of Microsoft products available through TechSoup.

GET OFFICE 2021

GET MICROSOFT 365

Further Support

There is a wealth of resources on Office 2021 and Microsoft 365 in the form of blog posts, courses, and consultation services. If you're unsure whether the cloud-based Microsoft 365 solutions are for you, you can receive a consultation with a member of our team.

TechSoup offers support, training, and guidance to help you transition to and use your Microsoft products more effectively. You might find the following helpful:

Make use of the resources offered by TechSoup and Microsoft to find the best solution for your team.

Top photo: Shutterstock