Posey's Tips & Tricks

Why Did Microsoft Nix Device Limits for Consumer Office 365?

Microsoft recently lifted the device limit for Personal and Home subscribers of Office 365. That's great news for individual users, but what's in it for Microsoft? Here are some possible reasons for the move.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft announced some important changes to the way that it licenses certain editions of Office 365. As of Oct. 2, those who subscribe to Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home will be able to install the Office software onto an unlimited number of devices. Furthermore, Microsoft is adding an extra count to Office 365 Home, bringing the total number of users that can share a subscription up to six.

If you use Office 365 as a part of a business or enterprise subscription, then it is tempting to just glance over this news without really paying much attention to it. Believe me, I get it. I don't have a Home or Personal subscription either.

At the same time, though, I find the announcement interesting because there may be a little bit more going on here than meets the eye.

Microsoft has not publicly disclosed the reasons why it has decided to eliminate the device count limits associated with Home and Personal Office 365 subscriptions. The reason could be something as simple as trying to give customers more for their money. If that's the case, then great! I can certainly respect that. My guess, however, is that Microsoft is finally acknowledging the fluidity of devices in the consumer space.

I recently saw a statistic (although I cannot remember where I saw it) stating that the average person uses five separate devices. If that statistic were true, then it would definitely account for Microsoft's previous limit in which it allowed the Office software to be installed on five devices per user. However, I think that a lot of people actually work from far more than five different devices.

Consider that as I write this article, I am on the road attending Microsoft Ignite. I am writing this in my hotel room, where I have two laptops and a smartphone that I have been working from. The odd thing is that even though I have three devices at my disposal, it doesn't feel like enough. I am used to working from a far greater number of devices when I am at home.

I will be the first to admit that I am not exactly the typical user, but even friends and family whom I would classify as typical users tend to use quite a few devices. My wife, for example, uses a Windows laptop, an iPad, an Android tablet, a smartphone and no telling what else that I don't know about.

It is entirely possible that Microsoft's decision to eliminate device count limits from its consumer-oriented Office 365 subscriptions is about more than just making it convenient for users to work from an ever-increasing number of devices. There are a couple of things that I think may be going on.

First, I think that it is probably safe to say that Office 365 is Microsoft's flagship product. Office 365 is a huge moneymaker for Microsoft, and Microsoft would love it if every device in the world ran Office 365. What better way to make that happen than to remove device count limits?

But with that in mind, consider what would happen if someone really needed to work from more than five devices (before the limit was removed). It would be impossible for that person to have any sort of consistent experience across devices because of the device count limit. That could prompt such a person to look for an Office alternative -- and there are several really good alternatives available. Not only would Microsoft lose out on that person's subscription, but the person may even start telling friends or co-workers how much simpler their life has become since they switched to a different productivity suite, thereby causing Microsoft to potentially lose even more business.

It's also possible that Microsoft decided to abandon its device limits as a way of reducing its own support costs. How many calls do you think that Microsoft gets every day from frustrated users who cannot install Office on their shiny new device because they have hit the device limit and must therefore de-register Office from some other device?

Ultimately, I don't really know why Microsoft decided to do away with its device count limits for consumer-based Office 365 subscriptions. Whatever the reason, I applaud Microsoft's decision. I think that the removal of the device count limit is going to make everyone's lives easier.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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