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

Microsoft angers customers in bid to push them into subscription software

Stewart Mitchell
18 Feb 2013

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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