If Microsoft had its way, Office 2021 probably wouldn’t be news at all—the Redmond giant would almost certainly prefer that everyone simply subscribe to Microsoft 365, pay a small monthly or annual fee, and get new features and fixes as they’re rolled out. For many if not most Office users, the subscription-based service is the most convenient way to get Office, even when they want to use it as locally installed software rather than doing their work in the browser and in the cloud.
For the rest of us—and for those who don’t want to put up with the Byzantine procedures necessary to install Microsoft 365 apps on Remote Desktop Servers—there’s Office 2019 now, and there will be Office 2021 later this year. There will also be a new Office LTSC (Long Term Service Channel), which trades a 10 percent price hike for a guarantee of longer support periods… longer than the consumer version of Office 2021, that is.
In reality, the “Long Term Service Channel” version of Office 2021 will still have a shorter support life cycle than that enjoyed by previous versions of Office. Office 2019 had a seven-year support window—Office 2021 LTSC will only offer five. There’s no official word yet on the support life cycle of the presumably shorter-lived consumer version of Office 2021.
So far, Office 2021 looks like it will mostly focus on visual updates; its apps include a new Dark Mode for those who prefer light text on a dark background, and unspecified accessibility improvements are on the way as well. Excel is scheduled to get a few meatier improvements ported in from Office 365, including dynamic arrays and xlookup. The few Office 2021 screenshots we’ve seen don’t otherwise appear dramatically different from earlier versions.
Both Office 2021 and Office 2021 LTSC will include OneNote and will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Office 2021 is expected to be available on both Windows and Mac in the second half of 2021, with a Windows preview of the LTSC version expected in April.