Microsoft backtracks on Macs and Office 365

Now says that Office for Mac will be offered 'at no additional cost' to subscribers of Office 365 pay-as-you-go plans

Saying that a spokeswoman "misunderstood" questions from Computerworld, Microsoft today backtracked and confirmed that Mac owners who subscribe to the upcoming Office 365 Home Premium will be able to acquire Office for Mac 2011 as part of their subscription plan.

Previously, the company had said that Mac owners would have to purchase Office for Mac 2011 separately -- at list prices starting at $120 -- but could link a copy of the suite to their Office 365 subscription plan for some basic file sharing functionality.

Computerworld had posed two scenarios to Microsoft: One in which users would be able to download Office for Mac 2011 free of charge as part of their Office 365 plan, the second where users had to buy the Mac suite separately.

Microsoft picked the second.

Today the company tried to clarify how things will work.

"The final version of Office 365 Home Premium, when available, will include Office for Mac as an option of the 5 devices," Microsoft said in a statement. "Macs could be all five of the devices if the subscriber chooses, and at no additional cost."

Earlier this week, Microsoft introduced previews of Office 365, including an edition named Home Premium aimed at consumers. Office 365 Home Premium will primarily target Windows users who want Office 2013. Customers who subscribe to Office 365 will be able to install and run Office 2013 on up to five devices, which Microsoft defined as PCs -- desktops and laptops -- and tablets running Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Windows 8 will ship Oct. 26.

With the addition of Office for Mac to the mix, consumers with a heterogeneous household -- a few Macs, a few PCs, but no more than five -- all can run Office for one monthly or annual payment.

According to fact sheets published by Microsoft, the business-oriented Office 365 plans will also include access to Office for Mac as part of the five-per-user device/copy limit.

Office for Mac 2011 will receive an update at the launch of the new Windows edition, Office 2013, that allows it to be counted toward the five-install limit. Microsoft has not set the on-sale date for Office 365 Home Premium, or any of the other subscription plans, but speculation seems to be collecting around late January or early February of next year.

However, Office for Mac 2011 and Office 2013 will not be equivalent in features or even applications. The latter consists of not only Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word -- the four apps in the highest-priced Office for Mac -- but also Access, OneNote and Publisher.

Because Microsoft has not disclosed the subscription price for Office 365 Home Premium, it's impossible to tell whether the inclusion of Office for Mac is a good deal for Mac owners.

Microsoft now prices a perpetual license three-pack of Office for Mac Home & Student 2011 (which lacks Outlook) at $150 list, which can be installed on up to three Macs. Office for Mac Home & Business 2011 costs $280 for a two-license edition.

Retail prices are lower: Amazon.com, for example, sells the three-license version of Office for Mac Home & Student 2011 for $99.46 and the two-pack of Office for Mac Home & Business 2011 for $212.24.

Microsoft declined to say how it will price the traditional single- or multi-license versions of Office for Mac when it offers the OS X suite as an Office 365 choice. If prices remain the same and Office 365 costs more than a few dollars a month, it may be cheaper to keep buying the Mac suite as a boxed copy or download, not as part of a subscription.

Windows 7 and Windows 8 Release Preview users can now try the Customer Preview of Office 365 Home Premium, and other plans targeting businesses, by beginning at a Microsoft portal. Mac users cannot participate.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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