Microsoft Addresses Controversial Office 2013 License Lock-In

Concerns persist after Microsoft tries to explain Office 2013's restrictive licensing policy, which ties each installation to specific hardware.

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Microsoft Office 2013, designed for the era of touch, mobility and the cloud, is coming under fire for a holdover of the PC age: software licensing.

In a move that raised alarm among IT support staffers and frequent upgraders, Microsoft released Office 2013 with a licensing structure that effectively ties the software to a specific PC for the life of that system. Unlike some previous versions, transferring a license to another PC is prohibited, making it a pricey proposition for businesses and Office users who update their systems regularly or like riding the bleeding edge of personal technology.

The news not only caused an uproar—the comments sections on sites such as Engadget and Slashdot are especially lively—it led industry watchers to openly accuse Microsoft of using the restrictive new licensing scheme to push customers to its Office 365 cloud-based subscription service.

A Microsoft supply chain source told IT Pro's Caroline Donnelly that it's part of a plan to shift the Office user base to the cloud. "I know why Microsoft is doing it, because they want more people to move to the cloud, but I just wish they'd come out and openly admit that," said the source in Donnelly's report.

Now the company is officially addressing the matter. According to Microsoft spokesperson Jevon Fark, customers have been seeking answers after the Office 365 Home Premium launch.

"Since then we've received questions about the number of installations people get with the traditional Office suites, transferability, and how they compare to Office 2010. With that in mind, we want to offer some clarity on the matter, to help customers make the best purchasing decision," Fark wrote in a company blog post.

In a Microsoft-supplied chart comparing Office 2010 and Office 2013 product licenses, the company shows that like Office 2010 "product key cards"—codes that downloadable copies of the software—Office 2013 only permits one, non-transferrable product installation.

Lending weight to the accusation that it's all a ploy to push cloud services onto customers, the chart compares the "full package product" (PKC) versions of Office 2010, which offer up to three installations and are transferrable to Office 365. "For those looking to use Office on multiple devices—Office 365 Home Premium works across up to five devices (Windows tablets, PCs or Macs) and can be activated and deactivated across devices," blogged Fark.

There is an exception to the non-transferability rule, but it's cold comfort for serial upgraders and do-it-yourself system builders.

"For those who only require Office on one device, the Office 2013 software is licensed to one computer for the life of that computer and is non-transferable (consistent with the rights and restrictions of Office 2010 PKC). In the event that a customer buys the Office 2013 software and installs it on a PC that fails under warranty, the customer can contact support to receive an exemption to activate the Office 2013 software on the replacement PC," Fark said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...