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Is Office 2013's single PC licence "unfair" to customers?


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 18 Feb 2013 at 13:35

Microsoft sparked howls of protest when it confirmed Office 2013 licences were locked to a single PC for life, but some experts believe the company is making the right choice as it moves towards a subscription model.

Microsoft has confirmed that retail copies of the productivity software will be tied to the first computer on which they are installed, meaning consumers would have to buy another copy of the software if they upgraded their PCs, or if their computer died.

At the same time, Microsoft is pushing its Office 365 subscription that can be used on five machines.

The company is using the strict user licensing agreement to push customers towards that subscription model for its software – but it met with anger, with many complaining Microsoft should have made the terms clearer.

"However wonderful the new features in Office 2013, the new retail licence agreement is about as fair as an early 2000’s Tour de France," said Simon Hurst, IT faculty vice chairman of ICAEW, in a blog post for the accountancy industry body.

"Microsoft might want to move its customers away from the perpetual to the rental option, but there must be better ways to do so than to sneak in punitive licence terms."

He pointed out that the move means anyone whose computer dies would have to buy the software again, likening the situation to music companies wanting users to buy songs again if they bought a new MP3 player.

"The Office 2013 software is licensed to one computer for the life of that computer and is non-transferable," Microsoft said in a statement sent to PC Pro. "If customers want to use Office applications across multiple devices, Office 365 Home Premium works across up to five devices (Windows tablets, PCs or Macs) and can be transferred across devices."

However, there's confusion over the details of the changes, with Microsoft also claiming that: "Office 2013 has the same licensing provisions around transferability as the equivalent Office 2010 software."

Company "has right" to make changes

While some users reacted angrily to the tight controls, licence management company License Dashboard noted that Microsoft has every right to change its policies.

There's a case to be argued that Microsoft should have been more transparent, but it knew it would get flak for it

"If I'm Microsoft, I'm thinking: 'I have a business model and I am trying to transition that model away from perpetual licensing onto a hosted service with a subscription model – how am I going to do that?'" said Matt Fisher, sales and marketing director for License Dashboard.

"One way is to make it less attractive for the consumers to stick with what Microsoft views as an outdated business model," he told PC Pro. "There's been a lot of criticism, but on this occasion my sympathy lies with Microsoft. It is designed to make profits and can change licences as it sees fit."

However, Fisher was less impressed by the way Microsoft has handled the clampdown, which he said lacked clarity.

"There's a case to be argued that Microsoft should have been more transparent, but it knew it would get flak for it – a lot of licence experts should have spotted this sooner, as well," he said.

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User comments

Tough call...

Personally I'm reasonably sanguine about 'renting' Office 2013/4/5 etc. for £80 p.a. That's less than £7pcm and worth every penny.

Bung-in my cloud-hosted Exchange (£3pcm) and 'Office' on my WP8 and I've got a very powerful set of productivity tools. I've got access to key documents almost anywhere where there's an Internet connection.

I can see that many people simply want access to 'Office' and so for them the rental model probably sucks, as they'll want to be using 2013 when I'm pushing up daisies!

The real bummer is the stuff about only one install during the lifetime of the software, which is downright stupid & unreasonable.

By wittgenfrog on 18 Feb 2013

For our family getting the 5 machine rental license represents good value for money, getting the latest version of the software. I would understand someone who doesn't have other family members who might just have a PC and a laptop the numbers don't stack up so well.

By revsorg on 18 Feb 2013

The paragraph should probably read:

The company is using the strict user licensing agreement to push customers towards alternatives for its software

Was considering getting the student version of 2013 for £43. If the same licensing applies I'll stick with libreoffice.

By JamesD29 on 18 Feb 2013

Then the public should vote

If we don't like it then everytime we buy a new computer then we should insist on Office 2010.
If the manufacturers have too many complaints then they will have to stop supplying 2013.

Vote with your feet

By therebbe on 18 Feb 2013

I can see why Microsoft want to do this and why it's a better deal for them but the honest consumer obviously loses out and what annoys me is that pirates will have this cracked and activated in no time and loaded on as many PCs as they like while the rest of us who pay for Office get a raw deal.

Thankfully as a mature student I will be able to get 365 or 2013 for about £40 so it's not so much of a problem for me personally but for regular consumers the new license set up works only in Microsoft's favour.

I'm quite happy with Windows 8 and like the Surface Pro but I seem to be in a minority. Moves like this make me think more and more people will start to use iWork or free office alternatives moving forward. Coupled with the general negativity towards 8 I can only see Microsoft losing market share in the future, I mean outside of most businesses who really needs Windows and Office?

By Deano on 18 Feb 2013

Pushing us away

The main thing is that Microsoft are in the process of pushing their customers away. As more people pick up tablets, and cannot just get Office, they are finding that the cheaper options available are just fine. Why pay monthly when for the one month's payment you can buy an editor that does what you need? Or use a free one on the web?

The longer Microsoft wait in putting Office "natively" on the iPad and Android, the more people will be liberated from it.

By MJ2010 on 18 Feb 2013

EU law

Isn’t this simply illegal? I remember Oracle not that long ago was told that their attempt to stop people re-selling used software is illegal in the EU. I’m not law expert, but to me it looks like MS is trying to go even further than Oracle...

By aa111 on 18 Feb 2013

Price rise anyone???

Hmmm, can anyone hear the companies with plenty of retail Office 2010 copies rushing to their pricing sticker gun and cranking the price up, in anticipation of the stampede of companies and individuals saying "stuff that for a game" and rushing out to buy remaining 2010 copies?
If your PC dies, does that mean you can send Microsoft the repair bill, claiming that the only reason you got it repaired was so that you wouldn't loose your office 2013 install?

By mrmiley on 18 Feb 2013

I appreciate preventing people from installing on multiple computers - but it does seem unfair if your hard disk fails you need to buy all your software over again!

Personally I'm not keen on renting. I have my own car, TV, video etc.

So don't want to rent software. When you own software you can choose to upgrade - with rental you are paying for upgrades whether you want them or not.

However I can see from the comments I'm alone in not wanting to rent software. I imagine its the way of the future.

By cyberindie on 18 Feb 2013

You can't milk the cash-cow and eat it!

Either office is £20 and single use "disposable" install or it's premium price and a product you can re-install.
Trying to have it both ways will just push the majority of users into using pirated copies or older versions.
This is almost as stupid as taking away the START menu to make people buy touch-screens. Oh, no - that was Microsoft too.

By cheysuli on 18 Feb 2013

capricious = illegal?

I'd be surprised if it were legal due to its capricious nature. The duration of the licence is a lottery and so inherently unfair.

By martindaler on 18 Feb 2013

Microsoft penning its own irrelevance

I consider myself a typical home user of office software. I cannot think of a single thing that I do regularly, that I could not also have done in Office '97.

Renting software only makes sense if you are someone who always upgrades to the latest version. As I mentioned above though, in my case and I would assume in many cases, always upgrading is a pointless exercise.

Therefore if such licensing models are foisted upon me, I shall simply find alternatives with more grace and less bloat, such as Apple's Pages, which more than meet my humble needs.

By SirRoderickSpode on 18 Feb 2013

It's already established that it's OK for Microsoft to sell a single-computer non-transferable licence for Office. That's what OEM and keycard licences were in the earlier versions of Office.

Does it seem fair that the change hasn't been very well publicised? Of course it doesn't. Will Microsoft get away with this? Of course it will.

Will you have to buy a new copy of Office if your hard drive dies? I would guess (and it is a guess) not. If this works the same way as the original Windows Activation then you will be able to change some of the components of the PC without buying new software.

Just remember that when you insure your computer hardware you'll need to add in the cost of non-transferable software licences to the sum insured.

By TBennett on 18 Feb 2013

Who will buy?

I work for a massive international company and most users are still on Office 2003!

It will be a hard sell for MS to push their new rental policy and may well speed up their demise!

By bernardm3 on 18 Feb 2013

Welcome Back Office 2000, XP 2003 and maybe 2007 and 2010

The only reason I am using anything later than 2003 is due to the issue over passwords in Outlook. However I still have install media for all my back copies of Office and they all offer a superior performance they are 'Free' compared to the later versions with their 'tied up in knots' ribbons. I can see that some industrially active types may well want the latests and most expensive. My pension has less desire to dash out of sight, so I can write the increasingly less frequent letter - if it is to a bank they probably lose the letter anyway (like the outfit in Leeds). As for Windows 8, no comment and less use fr that!

By Jonesr18 on 18 Feb 2013

This is obviously very rational of Microsoft from a business perspective, but it is also likely that they are vacating the market for casual use completely. Only businesses will need to fork out for Office in a few year's time, and by then even fewer of us will be using Windows. This is no way to grow a business, that's for sure.

By c6ten on 18 Feb 2013

Will the old phone loophole still work?

In the past the oem one unit limit has always been fixed by using the phone activation method (at least it worked for me with w8 and media centre).

Still, to restrict like this is a terrible practice for legitimate consumers who have to endure it, there is a difference between the right to do so and not annoying customers to the point of them looking at the competition e.g. libreoffice.

By tech3475 on 18 Feb 2013

Windows 9 to follow the same licensing model?


"Microsoft has confirmed that retail copies of the Windows 9 OS software will be tied to the first computer on which they are installed, meaning consumers would have to buy another copy of the software if they upgraded their PCs, or if their computer died."

By E_Karim on 18 Feb 2013

Fat Lazy Cat

Up until now, Microsoft has at least had to innovate occasionally to make any new money off Office.

If they get this to stick, they end up in not only a near monopoly position, but also with a cash cow they can keep squeezing without putting any effort in.

At least with something like anti-virus software, you can understand the main part of the cost is continuous, in providing signature updates.

With something like Office, the main on-going cost is fixing the bugs and security holes that they put in it in the first place by not doing the job properly.

By Penfolduk01 on 18 Feb 2013


Good point. Yet another example of a company pushing users towards piracy.

By Tom85 on 18 Feb 2013

How does this affect VDIs?

Hi Stewart,
reading your article really struck a chord with me. One of the companies I've talked to recently had a particular problem around this issue. The company wanted to to start a virtual desktop infrastructure project but were effectively prevented by Microsoft from starting it because of the issue of licenses. The company wanted to install a handful of a particular MS software product but so far, have been unable to solve an obstacle raised by Microsoft. Microsoft's point is that with hot swappable desks in a VDI, there was nothing to stop the company from reallocating the virtual desktops to different machines and so be able to run as many instances of their product as the company liked.
It may be that Microsoft has a solution for this but when I last spoke to the company trying to get their VDI project off the ground, they hadn't been able to get an answer from their Microsoft reseller as to a solution that would satisfy Microsoft. While enterprise license pricing can work where enough workers are using an application (like MS Office), the same enterprise pricing is too high where only a few licenses are needed for a a particular Microsoft product. With so many companies moving to a VDI wondered if you know what Microsoft's response to this would be?

By simontompkins on 18 Feb 2013

What about HUP versions of office?

Working for a company that offers its employees a HUP version of office, does that mean that if I can just pay my 8.95 each time I upgrade my hardware? Or would I be forced to pay full price should I want to buy a Surface Pro for example?

By Shuflie on 19 Feb 2013

Outlook passwords....

I'm used to the job of changing my password on my iPad and iPhone when I change my email password.

But now on my Windows 8 laptop I have a few new jobs to do...

Log in to my email, change password. Windows 8 brings up a Metro style window telling me I need to change re-enter my login password. Then I Open a rented Office 2013 program and my login details at top right have a little yellow warning triangle - "we can't log in to your account right now" at which point I have to re-enter my password for Office.

I've got a cold right now and by the time I'd changed my password everywhere I had forgotten why I turned my laptop on in the first place!

Added to which, I was changing my password to something simpler because it was taking too long to type into my laptop every time I want to use it. So my security level has actually deteriorated.

And yes, I have done the grace period hack so the laptop doesn't freeze the very moment the screensaver triggers.

My guess is that this is something Microsoft will streamline in Windows 9.

And no, I don't have a touchscreen.

By revsorg on 19 Feb 2013

The way i see it is if Ubuntu Mobile OS starts to take off, then the Office programs on it will as well,The more people that start using Ubuntu Mobile and therefore say for example Libra office on it,the more Microsoft is going to loose out on both Win 8 and Office 13

By Jaberwocky on 20 Feb 2013

It's like saying any thing goes wrong under the hood of your car you have to by a new car.
Wrong by any stretch of the imagination.
Libre office for me, I have three PC's.
seriously looking at Ubuntu

By regmck on 21 Feb 2013

Freedom of choice

So far as I'm concerned Microsoft can charge whatever it likes and impose whatever unrealistic terms and conditions it wants. Just don't expect me to use their products.

By IT_Dino on 21 Feb 2013

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