FAQ: What's Microsoft done to perpetual Office now?

Microsoft plans to continue to offer a "perpetual" version of Office for enterprises, with the latest in that line due out later this year. So just what is Office LTSC, and what's it mean for enterprises?

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Martyn Williams/IDG

Contrary to expectation and a surprise to some — including Computerworld — Microsoft will continue to offer a "perpetual" Office for enterprises. The latest in that line will release later this year.

Saddled with the clumsy name of Office LTSC, the productivity suite will be licensed in the traditional fashion — dubbed "perpetual" because the license provides rights to run the software as long as one wants — just like its predecessor, Office 2019.

Not everything out of Redmond, apparently, will be a part of a subscription. But neither will Office LTSC be able to compete head-to-head with what Microsoft wants customers to purchase, the ongoing software "rentals" of Office 365 and its even more expensive Microsoft 365. Microsoft will make sure of that.

Knowing that, we tackled the most important questions about Office LTSC. Hail to on-premises!

What's with the name change? Don't blame us. We didn't do it.

Microsoft changed the name of what it will sell later this year to enterprises wanting to purchase a one-time-payment, perpetual license, so called because it lets the buyer run the software as long as desired, even in perpetuity, as if that's possible. Rather than continue the long-standing tradition of referring to this software as Office X, where X has been a year to make a moniker like Office 2019 or Office 2016, Microsoft will instead refer to the suite as Office LTSC.

(The full name: Office LTSC Professional Plus 2021. Oof.)

LTSC, for Long-term Support Channel, aligns Office with Windows 10, which has had a long-term-supported build since 2015. As Windows defined it, LTSC was a version that received security updates but no feature updates for its 10-year life, and initially was a sop to enterprises freaked out by the rapid Windows 10 release cadence Microsoft forced on customers.

Not long after 10's debut, however, Microsoft recharacterized LTSC as something suitable only in very special, very limited scenarios. LTSC was definitely not for mainstream use, Microsoft contended.

With the name change, Microsoft's now making that same argument for Office.

What? I'm not following. How about you put it plain? OK, how about this: Microsoft doesn't want customers to be buying Office LTSC when subscription-based alternatives, Office 365 and Microsoft 365, are available.

Sure, it will sell per-device licenses if that's what the customer really wants. But it will go to great lengths to make sure that that customer understands that Office LTSC is suitable only in some situations, and so rides in second-class while Office 365 laughs it up in first.

"[Office LTSC] is built specifically for organizations running regulated devices that cannot accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices that are not connected to the Internet in manufacturing facilities, and specialty systems that must stay locked in time and require a long-term servicing channel," Microsoft wrote in an April 22 post to a company blog.

How long will Microsoft support Office LTSC? Great question. Support has been significantly changed for this round of perpetual licenses.

Office LTSC will be supported for only five years. If, say, the launch date is August, Microsoft will support the suite until around the same date in 2026. The five-year support lifecycle is half the decade tradition of Microsoft software and two years shorter than the support-truncated Office 2019, which even before its launch saw its planned support rolled back to seven years.

Unlike when Microsoft reduced Office 2019's support, the company has not offered an explanation for the shortened support lifecycle of Office LTSC. (The closest it's come is here, where it states, "Older products may not meet today's more demanding security requirements.")

For more on the support reduction, including how Microsoft wields support as a weapon and what the five years means to the economics of perpetual license Office, check out this February piece on Computerworld.

Will we be able to run Office LTSC on Windows 8.1? We have some scattered PCs running that lame duck OS, which doesn't exit support until 2023. Are you kidding? No. The answer is no.

Office LTSC will be supported on Windows 10, Windows Server 2019 or Windows LTSC 2019, that last the long-term build for Windows 10 issued in 2018. Windows 8.1 — and Windows 7 if you're still running that, whether under Microsoft's extended support plan or not — are out of luck. Again.

(Office 2016 was the last version to support either Windows 7 or 8.1.)

We have Macs. Can we run Office LTSC? No, that's the name of the Windows-only version.

Microsoft's calling the macOS version Office 2021 for Mac, likely because there's no LTSC in the Mac universe. (Still, it invites confusion, especially when the consumer/small-business SKU of a pay once/run forever suite will be called — get this — Office 2021.)

Will Office LTSC have the same apps as previous versions of Office? Yes — more or less.

  • Windows users will receive Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, Publisher, Word, and Visio.
  • macOS users get Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word.
  • Skype for Business will be included with Office LTSC but it will not be installed by default. (Users must select it as an optional install.)
  • Instead, Microsoft Teams will be installed by default by both Office LTSC and Office 2021 for Mac.

What will Microsoft charge for perpetual Office LTSC? We don't know exact dollars and cents.

But Microsoft has already said it will raise prices. "[We] will increase the price of Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual apps by up to 10% at the time of general availability," a Microsoft executive said in February, referring to volume licenses for commercial customers.

Because Microsoft does not publicly reveal volume license prices, the new prices for Office LTSC (and the macOS version, Office 2021 for the Mac), are unknown. But this 10% hike will come atop a 10% increase in license prices that Microsoft levied in 2018, when it rolled out Office 2019. In other words, over a three-year stretch from 2018 to 2021, Microsoft will have boosted prices by more than 20%.

What's with the price increase? Microsoft hasn't offered up a reason for the boost.

In February, when it talked up the then-upcoming preview of Office LTSC, an executive said, "We designed it as a specialty product intended for specific scenarios" while discussing the 10% hike, at least implying that the increase is justified because Office LTSC is out-of-the-ordinary or perhaps could bear a higher price because it isn't considered mainstream.


While businesses raise prices for all kinds of reasons, in this case it's almost certain that Microsoft wants to steer customers away from on-premises, perpetual licenses in favor of subscriptions. Raise the price of the former and the latter look more attractive because it will take longer to amortize the perpetual license version.

For example, the current price of Microsoft 365 Apps for business, the subscription that provides the same applications as the perpetual license for Office LTSC, is $12 per user per month, or $144 per user per year. Office Professional 2019 runs $440 at list price from Microsoft, so you could pay for Microsoft 365 Apps for 37 months, just over three years, before equaling that amount. If the corresponding perpetual license for Office LTCS costs, say, $485 (about 10% higher than 2019), you could subscribe to Microsoft 365 Apps for 41 months for the same amount.

Because Microsoft swings pricing like a club as part of its plan to push customers to subscriptions, don't be surprised if the company raises prices yet again when it fulfills its pledge to provide a successor to Office LTSC in another three years.

Microsoft's goal, clearly, is to price itself out of a market in perpetual-licensed Office.

The Office LTSC preview that launched in April..., how long can we run that in lieu of the real thing? Until Jan. 17, 2022.

After that date, the preview's apps drop into what Microsoft called "reduced functionality mode," which means that although they can open and print previously-created documents, they cannot be used to create new documents or edit existing ones.

Documents created or edited while the preview was in operational order, though, will remain intact.

What about small businesses not interested in buying licenses at volume? Is there a new Office for us? Yes.

Called Office 2021 — the name for both the Windows and macOS versions — it will replace Office 2019 as the one-time-payment, perpetual license of the productivity suite. Office 2021 will likely be sold at retail and direct by Microsoft, and probably (as is the custom) in several editions, the most app-packed and most expensive on Windows dubbed Office Professional Plus 2021 or something similar.

This suite will also launch later this year, Microsoft has said.

How quickly must we upgrade to Office LTSC? We're running Office 2016 now. Almost four years.

Office 2016 exits support Oct. 14, 2025. That's also the retirement date for Office 2019, in case you're running the latest.

Does your organization rely on Office 2013? You'll be under a tighter timetable, as that version exhausts support on April 11, 2023, or in two years.

Will Microsoft provide technical support to enterprises that try out the Office LTSC preview? Surely, you jest.

That's a big no. "Since this is a preview program, Microsoft support isn't available," Microsoft wrote, ironically in an online support document. "The preview products shouldn't be used in your normal production environment or on a production device."

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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