A panic usually ensues when you are presented with the dilemma of buying a software package, no more so than when presented with a myriad of versions of MS Office.

Even if you have software already installed (commonly, Office can sometimes appear as a pre-installed 30-60 day trial on a new PC. Then it stops working when the trial ends and you have to buy it - but do you know what you're buying?)

This is where the jargon might start to drive you crazy. What is an OEM version, and should you buy it on a site like Ebay or from a friend? Is it even legal? What's a volume license? If you have two PCs at home, surely you can stick the disk in both and install it?

All valid questions asked by hundreds of computer users every day. It's not just confusing, it's scary - more and more headlines appear where someone gets locked up for software piracy, but how do you know that you're not breaking the law and are safe to pre or re-install at will?

To break things up simply: OEM means it came pre-installed on a machine. Generally, the license only allows the software to exist on the device you bought it on. If you've got one of those MS Office trials on your machine, it's likely to be OEM. This isn't a bad thing - after all, you got to try it for free, but it might not offer you the flexibility you're looking for. You can install a full retail version over the top of it, if it's the same version of Office.

Volume licensing can mean anything for, say, up to 5 computers for a home user (before you scream "Five?!" - think about it. Your laptop, the home desktop, the mini travel laptop, the PC in the kid's room... ah, that's four with one to spare!). It could also mean up to thousands of users in a corporate setting, but if you have to handle that - no doubt your employer's IT department know all the rules. Then there's the "normal" retail version, which sometimes allows more than one install on different machines, but not always.

Then the Academic versions. Let's say, for example, that you're a teacher or student. There's the teacher and/or student edition. Makes sense to buy it, right? Well, no actually - since the name of the edition refers to the discounted cost as opposed to what you actually get with it (let's say you're a programming student and it's missing Access - no can do!). You'd probably need a Developer edition instead, including Access, FrontPage, and SharePoint Team services.

Office comes with many versions - Basic, Home and Student, Standard, Small Business, Professional, Ultimate, Professional Plus, and Enterprise (the latter has everything included). Most normal users won't need to branch out beyond the Standard - but there's nothing worse than not being able to synch up your work from home if your domestic computer hasn't got the same capabilities.

It's impossible to recommend a suite without knowing individual circumstances, but chances are you can find one that does what you want it to, when you want it to, on the number of computers you need. Best to visit the Microsoft website itself, or take the advice of a trainer to advise you. Better than fearing you've become a software pirate or cutting back on programs you need! After all, if you have some new software included - why not use it as an incentive to learn it and improve your expertise? Before long, you'll be deserving of Enterprise: the holy grail of Office capability... even as a home user or student!