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Microsoft Clarifies Office 2013 Product Use Rights

Microsoft published a volume licensing "brief" this month that shines a little more light on the product use rights (PUR) of Office 2013.

The nine-page document can be downloaded here. It's perhaps a bit more clear (although less definitive) to read this brief than to sift through the 123-page October PUR document -- especially if organizations want to figure out what they can do given the new Office licensing. In particular, the brief spells out how organizations can use Office Home and Student RT in a commercial setting, as well as Windows To Go.

Office Home and Student RT
Microsoft bundles Office and Student RT with Windows RT devices, including its Surface RT tablet. However, that Office RT suite isn't licensed for commercial use, meaning that you aren't permitted to type that memo for work on it. The October PUR indicated three ways in which Office Home and Student RT can be used at a business. Organizations can purchase either a "standalone commercial license," an "Office user subscription license," or "any Office volume licensing SKU" will allow its use, according to a Microsoft blog post.

Microsoft clarifies this latter point in its brief. If a worker is licensed to use Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office Standard 2013, then he or she can use Office Home and Student 2013 RT for work purposes. This same concept applies when an organization is licensed to use Office for Mac Standard 2011. The one exception seems to be in cases where Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office Standard 2013 is hosted in a datacenter. Here's how Microsoft's brief describes it (page 2):

"If you are the primary user of a device licensed with Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office Standard 2013, then you can use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial use. The primary user of a device licensed for Office for Mac Standard 2011 also has Commercial Use Rights for Office Home & Student 2013 RT. You do not need active Software Assurance for Office to receive this benefit. You can also purchase perpetual licenses for Commercial Use Rights for Office Home & Student 2013 RT on a per-device basis through the Microsoft Open License or Microsoft Select Plus programs. If you use a Windows RT or Surface tablet to access Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office Standard 2013 software running remotely in a data center, the Windows RT or Surface device must be separately licensed for the corresponding Office suite."

Windows To Go
Organizations wanting to use Windows To Go to run the new Office will need to have to have a couple of licenses secured. Windows To Go is an option that allows IT departments to image a user's desktop to a memory stick for use outside the office or at another PC within the office. According to Microsoft's brief, a device at work has to have both of the following licensing for users to have the rights to run Windows To Go:

  • "Windows 8 with Software Assurance for Windows or Windows Virtual Desktop Access subscription license; and
  • "Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office Standard 2013"

Primary users who are licensed in this way can then use Windows To Go "to run Office on devices outside of the workplace through the Office Roaming Rights benefits."

Devil in the Details
Quite frankly, reading Microsoft's brief likely won't bring total clarity. While Microsoft licenses its premises-based Office products on a per-device basis, some of the language is user specific, referring to a "primary user," for instance, so it's confusing.

A table on page 8 of the brief even suggests that product use rights for Office might be a whole lot easier for organizations subscribing to Office through Microsoft's Office 365 service. The subscription-based Office Professional Plus is licensed per user, rather than per device. And users are allowed to run a copy of Office on up to five devices simultaneously. Office Professional Plus users also have the rights to run Office Home and Student RT for commercial use. They can run Office from Windows To Go, too, if they have Software Assurance or Windows Virtual Desktop Access licensing in place.

But all of this is "as clear as mud," according to Rob Horwitz, research chair and cofounder of Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy. The company offers regular "bootcamp" seminars on Microsoft's licensing, as well as specific publications.

Horwitz noted that Office 365 currently is based on Office 2010 technology, although it's going to "get a facelift in the first quarter of 2013." Organizations don't have remote use rights with Office 365. In addition, the current Office 365 does not support Terminal Server or Remote Desktop Services. One of the problems is verifying users. The Office 2010 technology in the current Office 365 currently lacks the activation technology to enable Terminal Services and virtual desktop infrastructure access to multiple users, he noted.

However, a few general trends are pointing in Office 365's direction. First, it's more common for organizations to have multiple users per device. Google is moving in that direction, Horwitz said. Second, it's easier for Microsoft to track licensing compliance via subscription-based services vs. perpetual licenses. Third, the subscription model helps Microsoft bypass the "good enough" problem in which it must compete with its own earlier released perpetual-licensed products, particularly when companies decide not to upgrade. The original licensing model for software was the subscription model, which is how IBM licensed its mainframes, Horwitz noted. The perpetual license model is closer to a consumer model, he added.

Still, Horwitz noted some confusing points for those reading Microsoft's brief. For instance, the "remote use" rights for Office as a subscription, as described, depend on the definition of "remote" as either meaning "off premises" or "remote as in the software is running in one place but being displayed in another." Despite what Microsoft's brief seems to suggest (in the table on page 8), there are no remote use rights with Office 365.

"Office 365 wins with respect to using Office on multiple devices, [that is] Office in the traditional sense -- thick client, it's installed and it runs on your local device," Horwitz said. "Office wins there because you get up to five devices. On the flip side, what's lacking in Office 365 currently is you don't get remote use rights. So, with remote use rights, if it's regular Office, you can have it running on your work PC and then remotely connect to your work PC from let's say an iPad or laptop and use your workplace PC as kind of a mini-terminal server. You're allowed to do that with Office when you buy it in the traditional way -- not when you use Office 365."

The cheapest way for an organization to enable bring-your-own-device or remote access scenarios with traditional Office is to use this method of accessing the work PC remotely as a terminal, which is permitted in the licensing through roaming rights. No extra costs are associated with using those roaming rights. Moreover, Software Assurance isn't required, according to Horwitz. This remote access capability is built into Windows and doesn't require the use of a special protocol, but the PC has to be located by the user, so it takes a little technical setup at the backend, he explained.

As for whether Office 365 will eventually permit Terminal Server, Remote Desktop Services or virtual desktop infrastructure access in the future, "the jury is still out," Horwitz said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 Mike UK

Typical of microsoft, compounding their office license shortcoming with more obscuritiy,every iteration making it harder to comply with the license requirements at a sensible cost. Microsoft is not keeping up with VDI development leaving its customers unable to move forwards with unworkable licensing for office. If we could give up our office license in favour of another product we would do so without a second thought.

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