Microsoft has started to warn customers who signed up for Office 365 subscription previews that their free ride is about to end.
Emails sent by Microsoft last week outline what happens when the previews expire and urge customers to subscribe to the paying versions of Office 365.
"Your Office 365 Home Premium Preview will end soon, and there are a few important things for you to know," read one email. Another noted: "Your subscription to Office 365 Home Premium Preview will expire on Saturday, March 16, 2013. To avoid a possible interruption of your subscription service, please renew your subscription by Saturday, March 16, 2013."
Microsoft launched previews of several Office 365 packages, including the consumer-grade Home Premium, in July 2012.
At the time, Microsoft said that the previews would expire about 60 days after the release of the final plans in each market. Microsoft launched Office 365 Home Premium in the U.S. on Jan. 29, 2013, and followed with the business-oriented plans on Feb. 27.
The March 16 cut-off noted in Microsoft's email would be 47 days after the Jan. 29 launch of Home Premium, or about two weeks shy of the 60 days Microsoft previously cited.
Expired previews behave identically to lapsed paid subscriptions: The Office 2013 applications drop into a limited-function mode that lets users view and print documents only. Users cannot create, edit or save documents.
To regain the lost functionality, a customer must purchase a new subscription to Office 365, buy a "perpetual license" copy of Office 2013, reinstall an older version of Office, or use the free cloud-based Office Web Apps.
Preview users must also remove Office from their PCs before installing the paid versions from a valid subscription, Microsoft said. To facilitate the removal of Office 2013, Microsoft has published an automated "Fixit" tool on its support site, along with detailed instructions for manually removing the applications if the Fixit doesn't work.
Office 365 Home Premium costs $99.99 annually, or $9.99 monthly, and lets subscribers install Office 2013 (Windows) or Office for Mac 2011 (OS X) on up to five PCs and Macs in the household.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.