Microsoft retreats from Office 2013 restrictive licensing

Backpedals from retail licenses permanently tied to one PC, lets users move suite to another machine

Microsoft today backpedaled from a sweeping change in its licensing for retail copies of Office 2013, saying that customers now have the right to move the software from one machine to another.

"We received customer feedback that they wanted this flexibility, and we thought this was reasonable, just and fair," said Jevon Fark, senior marketing manager with the Office team, in an interview Tuesday. "We will honor these new terms starting this morning."

The revised policy lets customers who purchased a retail copy of Office 2013 -- the $140 Home & Student, $220 Home & Business or $400 Professional editions -- reassign the license to another PC they own or control.

That's a change from the end-user licensing agreement (EULA) that debuted with Office 2013: Out the gate, the "perpetual" licenses sold at retail -- those paid for once, with rights to use them forever -- were permanently tied to the first PC they were installed on.

Under the now-defunct licensing terms, customers were not allowed to delete Office 2013 on one machine, then install it on another, even if that second PC was a replacement for the first, which may have been lost, stolen, damaged or simply outworn its usefulness. The only exception was if a computer had conked out while under warranty.

That raised hackles, not only in comments responding to the Computerworld news story on the restrictive licensing, but also those appended to a Feb. 19 blog entry where Fark tried to explain the move.

"This is not fair," said a commenter identified as Helinton Roberto Dias on Fark's blog. "So I pay $399.99 for Office Pro[fessional], my computer is stolen or bricked. Guess what? I need to pay again to have Office in my new computer. No way."

Today's change was essentially a reversion to the licensing policy of Office 2010, which allowed users to reassign retail copies -- but not those installed by computer makers -- to a different system. Fark confirmed that Tuesday.

That means customers can reassign an Office 2013 retail license, including those for the standalone titles like Word or Excel, once each 90 days, with exceptions made for hardware failures.

It will take about three months for Microsoft to revamp the mechanism it used to enforce the policy -- the Office activation system -- so that users can move copies by re-entering the 25-character key and activate automatically, said Fark. In the meantime, customers will have to call Microsoft's technical support line to finalize a transfer.

"If customers have any problems, even after [online activation is re-enabled], they should call support again," Fark said, stressing that Microsoft's support personnel have been briefed on the change.

Analysts had called the original Office 2013 licensing a huge departure from past practice, blasted Microsoft for hiding the new policy in the EULA rather than plainly inform customers, and linked the move to Microsoft's plan to push people to its Office 365 software-by-subscription plans.

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