Microsoft has positioned its newly announced/released subscription-based Office 365 as the belle of the ball, and it badly wants you to take her for a whirl — so much so that the company practically cast its other offering, Office 2013, as the ugly step sister.

That might sound harsh, but it’s pretty clear when you look at the fundamentals:

How They Work

Office 2013: You buy the license outright and use the suite for as long as you want without paying anything further, but there’s a limited selection of included software for the basic version. If you want more, you’ll have to pay more. (See below.)

Office 365: You subscribe to the cloud service and get charged an annual price, but there’s freewheeling access to more software and features.

Software

Office 2013: Lowest-end perpetual-license version (Office 2013 Home and Student) offers Word, Powerpoint, Excel and OneNote. For $219, you can snag Home and Business, which adds Outlook, or for $399, the Professional version includes Outlook, Access and Publisher.

Office 365: For Home Premium accounts, all of the above core applications, plus Outlook mail and calendar, Access, Publisher.

Installs

Office 2013: One user license for one PC (not three, as with previous versions)

Office 365: Up to five PCs and/or Macs, at least for now. It’s a sure bet that Microsoft will include other devices — like tablets — as well as other platforms in the future.

Price

Office 2013: The lowest-cost version — Office 2013 Home and Student — is around $140

Office 365: Home Premium account is about $100 per year, and a University version (for college students and faculty) goes for $80 for four years. A business tier is also coming on February 27th.

Perks

Office 2013: No cloud storage and no free upgrades to new versions, but you own the license, which means you can use it forever, until your PC dies or you upgrade or switch over.

Office 365: Hold onto your hats — there’s a lot to take in:

• 20GB of SkyDrive (in addition to whatever storage plan you already have)
• 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month
• Perpetual upgrades for as long as you subscribe.
• You can activate and deactivate specific computers at will at the Office.com web portal, so you’re not locked into the five terminals you originally set up. Office 365 on deactivated computers can still read docs — they just can’t edit them — however, you can reactivate them whenever you want (up to the five-limit maximum). In other words, if you have a lot of computers, you can switch up the ones that have the active installs.
• Office On Demand which can basically stream the application to any PC via Office.com, so you can edit docs on the go from any computer. It uninstalls when you’re done, with no trace.
• With five licenses, you can set up individual user accounts with their own settings. Family members just sign in with their own Microsoft accounts and have their own list of recent docs, SkyDrive access and more.
• The Office App Store, with Web-powered add-ons for many key Office applications.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the Office App Store is intriguing and full of potential. Although it’s still trying to find its legs since the November debut, the store could offer a lot of exciting, creative new pathways for development. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s backed by the world’s undisputed majority leader in desktop OSes.) Reportedly Microsoft has been reaching out to devs, both cooperative and even competitive, to help flesh out these offerings. 

Clearly, with Office 365, the company is rebooting its software suite as a go-anywhere, do-anything lifestyle subscription service that will soon have plenty of useful features and web apps to make it a robust, exciting environment. And even though it is still hanging on to the trusty old shrink-wrapped workhorse that evolved into Office 2013, it’s not hard to see which one the company believes is its future. 

Now, Office 2013 might not be the sexy choice, but it could still make sense for people who only need the basic programs and plan on using them for a good long time on a single terminal. For everyone else, however, there are some interesting choices now. So which one will you pick? Are you leaning toward Office 365, Office 2013, or do you plan on hanging on to your legacy Office suite for now, until any unforeseen kinks get worked out? Let us know in the comments.

And if you’re on the fence, TechnoBuffalo is working on a full review of the release version of Office 365, so definitely stay tuned for that!