Office 2013: Fear, Loathing and Misinformation

Category: Software

An alarming story about Office 2013 is flying around the Web: Once you install a retail copy of Microsoft Office 2013, you can never install it on another PC without paying Microsoft for a whole new license. And the reason, the pundits say, is to herd the masses into a "software rental" mindset. Is it true? Read on...

Is Office 2013 a Bad Deal for Users?

Rumors are flying that Office 2013 is an "install once" product. Microsoft's own documents seem to indicate that you can’t buy a new PC and install the copy of Office 2013 that you already own. It isn’t clear that you can even change hard drives or other components without paying for a new copy of Office 2013. So goes the tale being told by many an indignant tech pundit. But it isn’t true.

Yes, Microsoft has tweaked the license agreement for Office 2013. For Office 2010 (the previous verion) it read as follows: "You may reassign the license to a different device any number of times, but not more than one time every 90 days. If you reassign, that other device becomes the 'licensed device.' If you retire the licensed device due to hardware failure, you may reassign the license sooner."

Office 2013: A Bad Deal?

That “reassignment” clause is gone from Office 2013’s license agreement. In many places, the agreement now states, "Our software license is permanently assigned to the licensed computer." This restriction is made enforceable during the registration process. When you enter that lengthy registration key during installation, it is combined with data gathered from your computer’s hardware to create a unique activation code that essentially says, “This copy of Office (identified by the registration key) is valid only on this machine (identified by the data collected from the machine).”

The activation code is transmitted to Microsoft and checked during each attempt to re-install Office 2013. If the machine changes, the new activation code won’t match the one that Microsoft has, and the installation will fail.

But here is the secret: if you can erase Microsoft’s record of that activation code, then your copy of Office 2013 is not “assigned” to any computer; it’s as if Office has never been installed. You can install it on a new or modified PC. There are two ways to accomplish this erasure (without any hacking skills).

Call tech support, explain that you have replaced or modified your PC, and beg the support rep to delete your activation code. That may or may not work, depending on the rep’s training or mood. (Hint: ask nicely.) The second method is to go to the Office 2013 Web site, log in to the account you created during your online purchase or registration, and erase your activation code yourself. See that “download/install” button in the lower-right part of the screen? After activation, it switches to something like “deactivate your license.” Click that button, follow instructions, and you’re free to install Office 2013 on a new PC.

You can’t blame the tech press alone for not revealing this secret. Microsoft’s press relations people have been stubbornly disingenuous about the subject, handing out terse “no comments” when asked point-blank whether it’s possible to transfer an Office 2013 license to another computer. I stumbled across the truth on Reddit where some Office gurus were discussing it. Microsoft has created this confusion, and it looks like it was intentional.

Why Is Microsoft Trying to Change the Software Delivery Model?

It can't be denied that Microsoft wants to steer people AWAY from buying locally installed copies of Office 2013. They'd much rather see you using their cloud-based Office 365 service, which is basically a "software rental" concept. Instead of paying once for a copy of Office that you can install on your hard drive, you pay an ANNUAL fee to use Office 365.

Piracy is one big concern; it’s estimated that one-third of all Office copies installed are stolen. The company would rather get streams of annual subscriptions to Office 365 than one-time payments for Office 2013. The “one licensed device” provision is a draconian and underhanded disincentive to buy the retail product. But other factors make Office 365 a positive choice for many users.

A single-license copy of Office 2013 Home edition (the one you buy once and install on your computer) costs about $140. Contrast that with the $99 annual cost of Office 365, and you might see it as a raw deal. But wait, you can use Office 365 on up to five devices (PC, Mac, or select smartphones and tablets) simultaneously. You also get 60 free Skype talk minutes a month and an extra 20 GB SkyDrive storage.

Which is a Better Deal?

So let's break it down. If you're a single-user household, and you tend to upgrade your office software every three years, your total cost for Office 2013 is $140. Likewise, if you have two Office users in the family, your cost is $280. For three users, you'd spend $420. Five users: $700. Going with Office 365, you'd spend $300 in the same period. So obviously there are scenarios where "renting" your Office software will save money in the long run.

Bottom line: If you need three of more Office licenses, you'll probably see an advantage of going with Office 365 and paying the annual fee.

Similar price advantages apply to small business and enterprise versions of Office 365. With Office 365, there are far fewer bytes to download in order to keep your copies up to date. Most of the updates are applied on Microsoft’s servers. Also, updates are applied continually, not just once a month; Office 365 can respond to changing security vulnerabilities more rapidly.

What About FREE Office Alternatives?

There are alternatives to Office 2013 and Office 365, of course. There are even some free options that are pretty darned good, and offer file compatibility with Word, Excel and Powerpoint. If you bought a new computer in the past few years, it probably came with the Office Starter Edition. It was free, but ads appeared on the screen. Microsoft hoped people would pay to upgrade to the full Office suite, but apparently not many did so. Office Web Apps is the replacement for Office Starter Edition. It's a free web-based service that offers word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation modules very similar to Office.

Other free office software alternatives include Libre Office, which is well regarded by many professionals, and is improving rapidly. Google Docs is all the word processor that many home and student users need. For information on these and several others, see my article Microsoft Office Alternatives.

And keep in mind that if you're satisfied with an older version of Office, there is no compelling reason to upgrade. I still use Office 2000 on one of my desktop PCs, and it works fine.

What's your opinion? Is a locally installed copy of Microsoft Office 2013 the only way to go? Or is one of the alternatives working for you? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Office 2013: Fear, Loathing and Misinformation"

(See all 32 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

I refuse to place anything out there on the "cloud". It's too easy to have a server go bad or just plain shut down. As for Microsoft - the less said the better.
By personal preference I use Open Office in place of Microsoft Works. I've never had a problem with it.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
20 Feb 2013

I do a lot of writing and I use different computers to do so. I don't use a spreadsheet or any other program included with MS Office 2007. I like MS Office but I feel that Microsoft has gotten (or have been for a long time) full of themselves. I also use Google Docs, but I prefer MS Office. I am not joined at the hip with Microsoft and will look for opensource or comparable alternatives (Not Mac, they're full of themselves too)... It is now worth it to me to have a word processor that costs me $10 a month (I wish I could earn that off of the stuff I write) when there are alternatives out there...

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

The link you provided to Office Web Apps takes one to anything but a Free Office Web Apps page. Searching on Google for Free Office Web Apps also lead ultimately to Office 365. Perhaps your machine has a link stored in your cache that takes you elsewhere.Please comment. ThanX

EDITOR'S NOTE: Looks like MS refreshed the page today. It's working for me (no cached links), give another try.

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

I've been using for the last couple of years on both my Mac and PC, and doubt I'll ever return to the paid Microsoft Office programs.

For me, OpenOffice works great!

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

To Jim:
My computer crashed and Microsoft wanted me to pay to have Office installed again. I downloaded Open Office and it is terrific. I don't see any difference. I use it for general household and spreadsheet for a small paying hobby.

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

Given Microslop's spotty record of software development, security issues, and bug fixes that don't, I think I will go for one of the alternatives. In addition, I think the whole "Cloud computing" fad will run its course as reliability and security issues become more apparent. Why would anyone hand their sensitive data to a third party and HOPE it won't be hacked or shared?

Posted by:

20 Feb 2013

Could you also address common user concerns about the hideous appearance of Office 2013?

Posted by:

21 Feb 2013

When Microsoft stops selling and supporting Windows XP. They have given up ownership. I suggest a group of programmers demand the source code (if refused, reverse-engineer it) and create a company to maintain the OS under a new name and market the OS ("new-name XP"). I have found this version of windows to be the cleanest, easiest, most intuitive OS from Microsoft. Necer had an opportunity to work with Windows 2000. Each later version Windows 7 and 8 are dismal systems for computing (tabs appearing in illogical order, non-sensible configuration, Win 8 is for tablets NOT computing). The same goes for Office suites such as Office 2000. Again, clean, intuitive, and easily configurable. Office 2013 (or 365) is totally screwed up with its ribbons/banners cluttering up a screen that is already to scarce of real estate on the 9-16 screens on today's computers. The XP and Office 2000 (under new names) should last forever. Any takers?

Posted by:

21 Feb 2013

Another FREE alternative is Kingsoft Writer.
It comes as both a FREE and paid version, and
is Microsoft compatible.

Anyone tried it yet??

I don't like LibreOffice, so I still use Word 2003.
I most definitely won't upgrade.

Posted by:

Janet K. Cook
21 Feb 2013

Is this any different from before? Haven't you always had to activate the license and then tell them if you wanted to reinstall it? I can't tell you the number of times we've installed and re-installed Windows and Office on the computers I use for my A+ Prep classes and my computers at home. I've never been hassled by their folks in asking for new codes.

Posted by:

21 Feb 2013

I like Office 97 and have seen no reason to spend a small fortune to upgrade, but now I learn Windows 8 will not support Office 97, so eventually I will have to do something.
I read your helpful article on alternatives and have a question. Will I be able to open all my saved Word 97 and Excel 97 documents in any or all of these alternative products? Thanks Bob for all your great articles and your answers to readers questions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, your older DOC and XLS file should open in newer versions of Word or the alternatives.

Posted by:

21 Feb 2013

I know I'm being unfair, but when I tried OpenOffice some years ago, and it converted an MS Word doc to a single 576-point letter "P", I lost interest. Surely it's better today, but my Office 2003 works fine on Windows 7.

And what's with all this Apache and Libre? Are we seeing the beginnings of demise?

Posted by:

Bob D
21 Feb 2013

Office 2003 is "not compatible" with Windows 8, whatever that means. Commenters report it works fine, but I haven't tried it. MS says there is a paid upgrade to make Access 2007 work on Windows 8. Yeah? That's nice. My Office 2003 and Access 2007 work just fine on my Windows 7.

Meanwhile, my $14.99 Windows 8 languishes behind my multi-boot startup screen, which I hardly ever see.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2013

First of all I need the 5 copies of Office. I am working full time, but I wanted to pursue getting my Masters. It turns out, because I tested out of some courses to get my bachelors a few decades ago, but they need letter grades not just "passed" on my records (same university that I got my bachelors from). So, I have to re-take some courses. Luckily they are available on-line. So I am also a student. My two children are, well obviously, students. MS has student discounts. My mother lives with us, but she is a teacher, so she gets the education discount as well. My wife is not a student so I had to pay full price for her Office. However, even with the education discounts, I've spent nearly $400 for six Office packages (Ok, I have two licenses because I am running a Windows 7 VM on my Mac - where I also have a Office 2011). I'll get Office 365, during our Summer break; I don't want to disturb the setup for me or my kids as we are mid-semester. The problem is we still have two PCs at home running XP and Office 365 requires Windows 7 or 8, XP is not supported and there was some caveat related to Vista. I have more than enough Windows 7 licenses, these were (no longer free, but it was when SP1 came out) free for me from my university. So, previously I had run the Windows 7 check and even though it will be fresh installs, on two of the XP PCs. This is the disruption that I don't want until after the semester ends.

However, there seems to be further misinformation. First of all the enterprise versions are as stated, but the Office 365 Home Premium for 5 devices is fully loaded locally on your device. I had chatted, several times just to make sure the information is accurate, with Microsoft. If I wanted to install it on my VM, I would have to "give up" one of my other licenses. They (all three of the MS reps that I chatted with) sent me a link to manage the licenses (and I haven't even bought it yet). Of course, I can't login yet, but you won't need WiFi to use them. Only if you are going to store on SkyDrive The PCs/Macs do need to connect every now and then to checkup for updates/patches. So, offline working is fine as long as you sometimes connect. This is the Home Premium version. The enterprise ones do need to connect, but usually in a business, you should have Internet connectivity.

Posted by:

Eli Marcus
23 Feb 2013

I say - if Microsoft would like me to use their beta-level product - in other words, a product (that they claim is market ready) that still has plenty of bugs to be worked out, then they should offer it to me for free. Until that time, I'll use the Office suite at work, where they pay for bulk licenses, and Libre Office, Google Docs, or other substitutes at home.

By the way, I have found the Office suite that Softmaker produces, to be the most robust and best office suite I have used in recent years. It is a commercial software, but about once a year, they offer the previous version for FREE if you simply enter a website that counts the downloads and donates money to a worthy cause according to the number of people who simply sign in and download the free suite.

Posted by:

23 Feb 2013

I am so sick and tired of Microsoft anything. They are in business to make money, and for no other reason. They are not in business to be helpful to anyone, unless they make more money for helping. With Microsoft you are considered a thief unless you can prove otherwise. Isn't that nice treatment when you have honestly purchased their products. I have Office Pro 97. Nice program, but in those days it cost over $700 to purchase it. That was gouging. I have recently tried Kingsoft Office, freeware version, and it is just beautiful. Why should I pay for "crappy" software from Microsoft when such good alternatives are available. And I can read all my Office 97 files with it as well. And I can install it on any PC I wish, as many times as I wish. There is also a version for my smartphone. So these days, the only part of Office 97 I use is the database. And there are current freeware DBs that do an equally good job.

Posted by:

Frank Verano
23 Feb 2013

I've been using OpenOfice then Libre Office for years and I write a lot. For all of you on the 'fence' if you have to copy an article with pictures from the Internet to OpenOfice or LibreOffice wp, picture place holders show up. You have to copy the pictures individually and paste them in the wp document you are working with. MS Word pastes both text and pics. Ashampoo has a low cost Office (now Office 2012.) I bought it and it is fine. I agree that is is worth keeping my old Office programs. I still have Office 2003 and use it occasionally.

Posted by:

John Hoffman
27 Feb 2013

I have been using Libre Office (Open Office) since my cursor went nuts in MS Word 2007. The damned thing would not stop shaking in place. It worked fine, but this shaking became extremely disconcerting as I worked in MS Word 2007. I really looked hard for a solution on the Internet, and finally gave up. I still have MS Office installed, but I use the other product for everything.

Posted by:

Larry G
13 Mar 2013

I have used Open Office, and now Libre Office and prefer it to Microsoft Office. I find it is much faster than office and I do not have to worry about macro viruses.

For normal users Libre Office provides normal users with everything they need.

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

I am 77 and have been using Open Office since Noah's Ark landed on Mt. Ararat. It is wonderful, rock solid. (And by gosh, the price is right!) I often thought Microsnot kept up to date by copying latest versions of the free source Open Office developed and kept current many many great contributors world-wide.

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