Microsoft Office 2007 isn't cheap. The full standard edition lists for $399, and other editions cost between $149 and $499.
So let's say you're still weighing a move to Office 2007 but can't imagine paying full or even upgrade price when there free, worthy alternatives such as Google Docs, Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice.org, ThinkFree and Zoho. What to do if you don't want to wait until next year, when Microsoft launches Office 14 and will, as Microsoft confirmed last 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 reseller 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 a significant discount.
The disadvantage is that you can install Office on only one PC. Full retail versions let you install the software on two PCs, except for Home and Student versions, which allows three. 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. As with the reseller version, users are restricted to installing the software on one PC each. 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 a reseller 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.
The best academic deal is what Microsoft calls the "Ultimate Steal": the full Office Ultimate 2007 suite -- the basic Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook apps, along with Publisher, OneNote, Groove, InfoPath, Access, and Accounting Express -- for $59.95.
A Microsoft spokeswoman said this is the second academic year Microsoft has offered the Ultimate Steal. In theory, only current students are eligible. But the criteria -- presenting an .edu e-mail address -- also seems to allow alumni with an e-mail address from their old school to get the deal, readers report.
It's nice to be appreciated
There are two other ways to get Office legally for even less, provided you qualify.
Current military personnel, retirees and their dependents are all eligible (PDF document) for Microsoft's Military Appreciation Edition of Office 2007. This is the full Standard edition of Office, except that users can install it on as many as 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 30 at the U.S. Army and Air Force's online stores and at Navy, Coast Guard and Marine base stores called Exchanges, at which active and retired military are eligible to shop.
There are more than 5 tens of millions of people who qualify for the military edition. There are 3 million active U.S. military personnel, along with about 2.3 million military retirees and dependents, according to Margaret Bergeron, executive director of the American Military Retirees Association in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Retirees are former military personnel who have served at least 20 years (or whatever minimum term demanded by their branch), or retired due to physical disability. They are due more federal benefits than veterans.
All retirees are veterans. But only about 10% of the 23 million total veterans are retirees.
A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that retirees, not all veterans, are eligible for the deal. Microsoft is considering expanding the program when the next version, Office 14, ships, she said, but declined to comment further.
Staff not stiffed
What if you're not in the military or a retiree? 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 (SA).
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.
(Note: This story was corrected Monday afternoon to reflect that the Military Appreciation Edition of Microsoft Office 2007 is only available to active and retired military personnel and their dependents, not all military veterans. Also, it has been updated to reflect that Microsoft's "Ultimate Steal" deal is still available today.)