Microsoft takes heat for ‘draconian, obtuse’ Office 2013 license terms

Microsoft Office Criticism

If you buy a license for Microsoft Office 2013, be warned: You may only be allowed to use it on one machine, no matter the circumstances. Both InfoWorld’s Woody Leonhard and The Age’s Adam Turner have done good jobs of combing through the details of Microsoft’s (MSFT) latest Office licensing terms and have found that Office users can get “a perpetual license for the Office 2013 programs” that only covers one computer. This means that if your PC breaks and you have to buy a new one, you may not be able to transfer your Office 2013 license to your new machine and may have to pay for it all over again.

The key here, as Turner notes, is that Microsoft seems to have applied the more stringent terms of service that it normally reserves for OEMs to individual users. In the Office 2010 retail licensing terms, for example, Microsoft said that users “may install another copy of the [Office] software on a portable device for use by the single primary user of the licensed device,” while OEMs are told that they “may not separate the components and install them on different devices” whatsoever.

The Office 2013 license, on the other hand, uses the same language for both retail and OEMs, and states that “you may not transfer the software to another computer or user.” Instead, Microsoft only gives you permission to “transfer the software directly to a third party only as installed on the licensed computer, with the Certificate of Authenticity label and this agreement.” This means, however, that you “may not retain any licensed copies” of Office 2013.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Turner that a “perpetual license of Office 2013 can only be installed on one personal computer,” meaning “that the customer can only install it on one device, either a desktop or laptop, but not both. If the customer has a system crash, they are allowed to reinstall Office on that same computer. If there are problems with this process, customers can contact Microsoft technical support.”

So what does this mean for people who turn in broken computers that already have Office 2013 installed? As Turner writes, it’s remarkably unclear.

“This is a pretty big deal for people who are trying to decide between Office 365 and a retail copy of Office 2013,” he says. “It seems a dead computer also means a dead copy of Office. These new licensing restrictions aren’t just for home users, they also apply to retail copies Office Home & Business 2013 and Professional 2013.” When he asked for clarification, the Microsoft spokesperson told him that users “cannot transfer the license from one PC to another PC.”

Leonhard is even harsher than Turner in his assessment of the Office 2013 licensing terms and goes so far to call them “draconian” and “obtuse.” Leonhard also notes that a Microsoft website until recently specifically said “both Office 365 Home Premium and Office 2013 client can be installed on up to five PCs or Macs,” a clause that appears absolutely nowhere in the Office 2013 licensing agreement. While that website has been changed to show that you can now only install Office 2013 on one computer, Leonhard still faults Microsoft for not making its terms clearer from the get go.

“If Microsoft can’t get the information right on its own site — if the licensing terms for a straightforward consumer product are that incredibly complex — how on earth are customers supposed to figure it all out?” he asks.

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