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Office 2013 retail licensing change ties suite to specific PC forever

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 18, 2013
A retail copy of Office 2013 is permanently tied to the first PC on which it's installed, preventing customers from deleting the suite from one machine they own and installing it on another.

"It's part of the carrot and stick," agreed Rob Horwitz of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that focuses on the Redmond, Wash. developer.

Microsoft said almost the same. When asked why it had not told customers of the change in ways other than to simply tuck it inside the EULA, which relatively few read, its answer was revealing. "We've been very clear in all of our communications that customers seeking transferability should get Office 365 and that Office 2013 is licensed to one device," the Microsoft spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions.

Perhaps. Although Microsoft has noted that Office 2013 can be installed on one, and only one PC -- a change from Office 2010, which was available to consumers and small businesses in multi-license packages -- it has not publicized the fact that once installed Office could not be moved, even to another system owned by the customer. In fact, the Office 2013 EULA issue went unreported until Melbourne's The Age noted the change in a news story titled "Does your copy of Office 2013 die with your computer?"

Office 365 does boast, as Microsoft put it, "transferability." The by-subscription plans let customers pull a license from one machine and move it to anther with a few clicks on a management portal. Office 365 Home Premium, which Microsoft rolled out last month, provides five Office licenses that can be assigned and reassigned at will to a household's computers.

Microsoft is to launch a line of subscription plans for small, medium and large businesses later this month.

As Directions' Horwitz noted, Microsoft has both offered a carrot and brandished a stick to nudge customers to its software-by-subscription concept.

One of the carrots has been pricing. Microsoft sells Office 365 Home Premium for $100 annually, or $10 monthly. For families that want Windows' Office 2013 or OS X's Office for Mac 2011 on four or more PCs or Macs, Computerworld's analysis has shown that Office 365 is a better deal than buying separate "perpetual" licenses, the buy-once-use-forever kind sold at retail.

But it's wielded a stick, too. To make those perpetual licenses less attractive, Microsoft raised prices as much as 17%, and eliminated the multi-license packs of Office 2010 it sold to consumers and small businesses.

The change to the perpetually-licensed, retail copies of Office 2013 is another stick, the experts said. "Through licensing, Microsoft is pushing technology in the direction they want to go," said Ullman. "And they're definitely pushing customers to Office 365."

And to paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt, that stick is pretty big.

For example, Computerworld's "rent versus buy" calculations, made without factoring in the EULA change, are rendered obsolete: If a customer must buy another copy of Office 2013 because of the change -- to equip a new PC, say -- Office 365 Home Premium becomes the better deal if just three PCs, rather than the earlier estimate of four, install the suite over a five-year span.


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