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Office 2013 retail licensing change ties suite to specific PC forever

February 15, 2013 10:28 AM ET

"This is stricter language than was available before," said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications, and like Ullman, a licensing guru. "According to this language, if your computer dies, so does your Office license. Microsoft has had that language in place for OEM software in the past, but not for retail licenses."

OEM software is that pre-installed by a computer maker, or OEM (for "original equipment manufacturer"), such as Windows or a factory-installed copy of Office. OEM licenses differ in many aspects from copies purchased at retail, including shunting support to the OEM, and generally come with more restrictive rights.

Dead PC means another Office 2013 buy

The implications of Microsoft change were clear to Ullman. He posed a scenario where a customer had installed Office 2013 on a 2-year-old Windows 7 PC, then later wanted to move the suite to a newly purchased machine. Under the EULA, that would not be allowed. Instead, the customer would need to purchase another copy of Office 2013 for the new computer.

"If you want to buy a new computer, you've just thrown away the cost of [that first copy of] Office," Ullman said.

And he had no doubt about why Microsoft modified the EULA for Office 2013.

"This is no surprise to me," Ullman said. "Microsoft has been doing the same kinds of licensing policy changes for corporations. And they've brought these same [policies] down to the consumer level.

"They're very smart about maneuvering or changing licensing to meet a business goal," Ullman continued. "As I've said before, I see Microsoft as a licensing company first, and second as a technology company. It's not that they don't have good technology, but they're driven by, consumed by, licensing."

Enforcement methods unclear

It's unclear how, or even whether, Microsoft will enforce the install-once restriction of Office 2013. Ullman expected that the company would use its activation technology to do so, as it does to ensure Windows remains tied to a specific PC.

Historically, the activation process has been somewhat relaxed, with Microsoft often allowing customers to reinstall Windows on new hardware, or radically changed hardware, after a telephone call. Yesterday, for instance, Microsoft said that if a customer's computer crashed, "They are allowed to reinstall Office on that same computer [and] if there are problems with this process, customers can contact Microsoft technical support."

But the company may also more strictly administer Office 2013 than it did Office 2010. When asked how the Office 2013 EULA would be enforced, Microsoft dodged the question, and instead replied with boilerplate of, "Software piracy is a substantial global issue, and we implement a number of protocols to prevent unlawful software distribution."

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