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'No free lunch' with Office on Windows RT for business, says analyst

Bundled apps on Surface RT cannot be used for work without tying them to another Office license, Microsoft confirms

October 18, 2012 06:40 AM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft confirmed Wednesday that owners of Windows RT hardware, including the company's own Surface RT, must acquire a commercial license for Office 2013 to use those devices' bundled Office apps at and for work.

The requirement isn't new, analysts said, and is consistent with current Microsoft policies related to Office versions designed for consumers.

Windows RT comes with four touch-enabled apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- that combined to form Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview. The scaled-down suite is included with each copy of Windows RT, the touch-first spinoff of Windows 8.

Microsoft plans to update the preview to final code via Windows Update, but has not set a date. Steven Sinofsky, who leads the Windows division, has only said that it would be "soon."

Because the RT version of Office is not designed for businesses -- the name gives that away -- it, like its cousin, Office Home & Student 2010, is not licensed for "commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities," according to Microsoft.

In other words, legally it cannot be used for work purposes.

To use Office Home & Student 2013 RT in a commercial setting, it must be tied to another Office license that is.

"Organizations who purchase commercial use rights or have a commercial license to Office 2013 suites can use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities," Microsoft explained in a statement, and in an FAQ on the company's website that was revised Wednesday.

ZDNet blogger and longtime Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley first reported on the fine print.

Those rights can be acquired through some of the upcoming Office 365 subscriptions aimed at businesses -- which for a flat yearly fee let a worker run Office 2013 on up to five different devices -- by purchasing a higher-priced perpetual-licensed copy of Office Standard 2013 or Office 2013 Professional Plus; or by having an Office volume licensing contract, such as the annuity-like Software Assurance, in place.

In other words, to use Office Home & Student 2013 RT on a Windows RT tablet, businesses must have another, corporate-class license in place for the employee, even if the device is owned by that worker.

Microsoft made it clear who was to write the check. "Organizations, not individuals, are responsible for their licensing agreements," a company spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions Wednesday.

Microsoft's licensing policies and practices are arcane -- consultants specialize in explaining them to businesses -- but the requirement may have caught some by surprise.

"This issue is really the most significant for [users at] small/medium businesses who thought they could get a Windows RT device and not need to pay for Office," said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft who follows Office for the research firm. "[But] there is no free lunch."

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