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Microsoft requires Office 2013 licensing for some non-Windows devices

Microsoft's Office 2013 licensing scheme isn't overly complicated, but IT should still understand Software Assurance, remote access rights and more.

In contrast to the muckle of special licenses and Software Assurance rights associated with Windows, Microsoft Office 2013 licensing is relatively simple.

Office 2013 is available through several channels, but business customers should carefully consider licensing limitations before acquiring Office through retail or OEM channels. Office purchased through these channels cannot be downgraded to an earlier version, used in a Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or Citrix environment, or re-imaged by a volume copy of Office.

A single Office 2013 license covers any number of Office instances, including multiple versions, on one PC.

A second copy of Office can be installed on a portable PC by anyone who is the primary user of a PC licensed for a volume edition of Office -- Office Professional Plus or Office Standard. However, this right is not available for PCs licensed via an Enterprise Agreement, which requires every PC to have its own licensed copy of Office.

Office 2013 is also available as a $12-per-month subscription, Office 365 ProPlus. This is somewhat misleading, given the Office 365 label. This version of Office is not a cloud-based instance of Office, but is installed conventionally on a PC.

The first "user-licensed" version of Office, Office 365 ProPlus can be installed on up to five devices (including one USB drive) used by one person, which can make it economical in situations where one person has home and work PCs, plus another portable or two. That brings the price down to as low as $29 per device per year.

Several Office 365 plans, including Small Business, E3 and E4, include a subscription to Office ProPlus.

Software Assurance on Office

SA, which offers discounts on upgrades and other benefits, costs 29% of the license price per year and can be added to Office only at the time the original license is purchased. It adds some rights and features, including:

  • The Office Multilanguage Pack, for use in multilingual environments;
  • Training vouchers (based on the customer's spending);
  • An inexpensive copy of Office for an employee's home use (commercial use is not permitted); and
  • The right to access Office hosted on a server, running from a USB drive or in a virtual machine on any third-party device, as long as users are not on the organization's premises (Roaming Rights).

Remote access rights

The Primary User Right and the Licensed Device Right give users certain rights to access a physical PC running Office from a remote device. These rights are also found in Windows.

The Primary User Right allows the primary user to access Office on the licensed PC from any other device, for example, enabling access to Office from a tablet via GoToMyPC. The Licensed Device Right lets anyone access Office remotely if the device is licensed for the same or a later version of Office.

This last rule is critical to businesses that access Office via Microsoft's RDS or Citrix. Customers can install Office on their networks for free -- there's no charge to install Office on a server. However, anyone who accesses a network instance of Office needs to have an Office license (for the same or a later version) on the device in use.

This is problematic for people accessing Office from an iPad or another non-Windows device that is incapable of running Office. They can purchase an Office license and assign it to their devices, even if they can't install it on them, but that is a costly solution and an asset management nightmare.

Uninstalled software can't be tracked and can lead to so-called false overlicensing, a situation in which the organization apparently has many more available Office licenses than it is using. Installing those licenses, which have been assigned to but not installed on non-Windows devices, will lead to underlicensing.

The Office 365 ProPlus subscription can be used to access a network installation of Office from any device, not just a device with Office installed on it. That uses up one of the five allowed devices per subscription.

Non-Office alternatives

Sometimes you need to own Office so that you can use software other than Office. Microsoft has made a full license for Office a prerequisite for using Office variants on non-Windows devices. Unlike Windows, most of these do not require SA to be added to the Office license.

The primary user of a PC licensed for Office 2013 also has commercial-use rights for Office 365 Home and Student RT, which does not have commercial use rights by default. They're available separately for $59.

The user also has access from any device to Office Web Apps Server, an internal server that (linked with SharePoint) offers browser-based Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. These apps duplicate the Office Web Apps found in Microsoft-hosted Office 365.

Office Web Apps Server is a particularly attractive option for mobile users because its lightweight viewing and editing capabilities may be all that most mobile users need. It requires no Windows license with SA or a substitute like the Virtual Desktop Access or Companion Subscription License. Because it runs inside the organizational firewall, no data is stored in the cloud.

A final variation on this theme is Office Mobile for iPhone and Android, which is free if you have an Office 365 subscription. Eligible subscriptions are Office 365 Home Premium and various small, midsize and enterprise-oriented Office 365 plans.

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