This story is part of 12 Days of Tips, helping you make the most of your tech, home and health during the holiday season.
Microsoft 365 is the most recent version of the Microsoft Office set of tools, and it includes programs that you already use at home, school or work. Some of the programs include Word, Outlook and Powerpoint, and buying a Microsoft 365 membership is still the most popular way to access these tools and more.
On Jan. 11, Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft 365 Basic which costs $2 a month, or $20 for a yearly subscription. However, you can snag Microsoft 365 at no cost under some circumstances.
Microsoft's suite of productivity software consists of classics like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, as well as newer apps like Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and SharePoint.
The suite typically costs $20 to $100 a year for subscription access across devices and family members. Microsoft also has a standalone version of Microsoft Office for Windows and Mac, called Office Home and Student 2021, for a flat $150 -- no subscription required.
Here are the versions of Office 365, Microsoft 365 and their apps that you can find online for free.
Get Microsoft Office 365 Education free if you're a student or a teacher
If you're a student, teacher or faculty member with an active school email address, you're likely eligible to get access to Office 365 for free through Microsoft, with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Teams, plus other classroom tools.
All you have to do is enter your school email address on this page on Microsoft's website: Office 365 Education. In many cases, you'll be instantly granted access thanks to an automated verification process. If you attend an institution that needs to be verified, it might take up to a month to confirm your eligibility.
College students can also get Microsoft 365 Personal for $3 a month with a valid school email address.
How to get Microsoft Office suite free if you're anyone else
Anyone can get a one-month free trial of Microsoft 365. However, it does require you to enter a credit card number. And if you don't cancel before the month is up, you'll be charged $100 for a one-year subscription to Microsoft 365 Family (formerly called Office 365 Home).
The good news is if you don't need the full suite of Microsoft 365 tools, you can access a number of its apps online for free, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Outlook, Calendar, My Content, Skype, Designer and Clipchamp. Here's how to get them:
1. Go to Microsoft365.com.
2. Click Sign up for the free version of Office under the "Sign in" button.
3. Log in to your Microsoft account or create one for free. If you already have a Windows, Skype or Xbox Live login, you have an active Microsoft account.
4. Select the app you want to use and save your work in the cloud with OneDrive.
So what's the catch for the free version?
You may be saying, "Wait a minute, if I can get all of those apps for free, why pay for Microsoft 365 in the first place?" Well, the functionality of the free apps is limited: They only run in your web browser and you can only use them while you're actively connected to the internet. They also have fewer features than the full Microsoft 365 versions.
There are still a number of benefits, however, including the ability to share links to your work and collaborate in real time, similar to what the Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) productivity tools allow. If you're looking for basic versions of each of these apps, the free version should work well for you.
For more productivity coverage, check out what Microsoft 365 Basic offers customers, all of the best features in Windows 11 and how to take screenshots in Windows 10 or 11. You can also take a look at CNET's list of the best Windows laptops.