Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint popularity remains impressive, even within Mac offices. Small and medium businesses, however, often struggle with the best method of licensing Microsoft productivity software.

How Mac offices should buy copies is a fair question. Office 365 is catching all the attention among Windows offices, but what should Mac firms do? Retail boxes are becoming harder to find. When you do track down an installation DVD and valid license key, most new Mac models (iMacs and MacBook Airs) don’t even include the required native optical drive. Office for Mac 2011 for Enterprise, meanwhile, the volume licensing method Microsoft recommends larger Mac organizations leverage, tends to be adopted by larger firms possessing in-house IT pros familiar with Microsoft’s open licensing programs. Thankfully, Microsoft’s numerous Office 365 subscription plans are also available for Mac organizations.

Self-employed users may wish to consider Microsoft’s Office 365 Home option, which provides a household with rights to install the full Microsoft Office 2011 suite on up to five Macs (running OS X 10.6 or higher), five iPads, and five smartphones. A subscription also includes 1 TB of online storage per user for just $99.99 (USD) per year, paid annually. An Office 365 Personal version is also available for just $69.99 per year, again when paid annually. The Personal subscription enables installing Office software on one Mac, one iPad, and one iPhone. 1 TB of online storage is included within the Personal account as well.

Larger offices with up to 10 or even 20 users will find themselves well served by Microsoft’s Office 365 Business plan, which runs just $99 when prepaid for a year. With the Business plan, Mac offices receive the right to install and operate Office for Mac on five Macs, five iPads, and five smartphones per user. The plan also includes 1 TB of OneDrive storage per user. Additional advantages include the plan’s centralized Office 365 administration portal, which simplifies adding and removing users and tracking license rights within a firm, as opposed to older methods of trying to maintain product key codes and install DVDs.

While internet access is required to install and activate the Office applications, once installed, a user is good to go. Desktop versions are included in the mix. The value is clear. Box retail licenses of Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Business 2011 alone cost $219.99, and the license is just for installation on a single Mac. For $99 a year, and with rights to install the software on multiple systems and to receive new versions when released, the Office 365 platform is now a better long-term deal.

The real kicker, and the final feature that makes Office 365 the best option for most Mac shops, is Microsoft’s Business Premium plan. Offices that opt to pay the $50 per year upgrade, per user, receive the same features as the Business plan users but add Microsoft’s proven reliable hosted Exchange email services. With the reasonably priced upgrade, Mac offices now receive the benefits of arguably the world’s best email service, shared calendars, and shared contacts, while also eliminating the need to have to license and administer the corresponding email server.

Have you chosen Office 365 for your Mac shop? Why or why not? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.