Microsoft Loosens Office 2013 Licensing Shackles

Users no longer have to wait for PCs to fail under warranty to transfer Office 2013 software installs. While the policy is more forgiving, some restrictions still apply.

Microsoft is reversing course on a restrictive new Office 2013 licensing policy that threatened to overshadow the software's improvements and new cloud-enabled enhancements like solid SkyDrive integration, which the company is banking on to drive adoption.

In February, in the wake of the Office 365 Home Premium Subscription, the software giant courted controversy when it was revealed that Office 2013 installs were tied to one PC. Transferring the software to another system was, in effect, prohibited. The only exception: a PC that fails under warranty.

The news caused a firestorm of criticism, leading industry watchers to openly wonder if Microsoft was pushing its cloud-based Office 365 offering onto customers at the expense of the goodwill that the company has spent decades building among Office users.

IT Pro's Caroline Donnelly was told by a Microsoft supply chain source that the move was part of a scheme to steer Office's 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.

On Feb. 19, Microsoft spokesperson Jevon Fark officially addressed the matter in a company blog post. While it lent some clarity to the proceedings, the post signaled that Microsoft was doubling down on the licensing scheme.

"It is important to note that Office 2013 suites have consistent rights and restrictions regarding transferability as the equivalent Office 2010 PKC [Product Key Card], which was chosen by a majority of Office 2010 customers worldwide," Fark wrote.

Today, Microsoft is singing a different tune.

"Based on customer feedback, we have changed the Office 2013 retail license agreement to allow customers to transfer the software from one computer to another. This means customers can transfer Office 2013 to a different computer if their device fails or they get a new one," Fark wrote in a March 6 Office blog posting.

The new policy applies to current and future versions of Office Home and Student 2013, Home and Business 2013, Professional 2013 and stand-alone Office 2013 applications like Outlook, Word and Excel.

Restrictions, though looser, still apply. According to the updated software licensing agreement, "You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you, but not more than one time every 90 days (except due to hardware failure, in which case you may transfer sooner). If you transfer the software to another computer, that other computer becomes the 'licensed computer.'"

The backlash was clearly felt deep within the halls at Microsoft.

Fark ended his blog post by thanking the vocal Office user base. "At Microsoft, we strive to make Office the very best product to help busy people and families get things done. A key ingredient in our formula for success is listening to our customers, and we're grateful for the feedback behind this change in Office licensing," he wrote.

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...