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Office 13 Retail May Be Bound to One PC Forever

TheAge reports that Microsoft is trying to push consumers into subscribing to Office 365 by "rejigging" the licensing conditions of the retail version, Office 2013.

According to the fine print, all versions of Office 2013, including Office Home & Student 2013, are single-license only, meaning the customer can install the software only on one computer. If that computer happens to crash, then the Office 2013 license dies with it, thus customers are not only forced to purchase a new rig, but a new copy of Office 2013 in the process.

That's a big change from the older version, Office 2010. Previously Microsoft limited installation to the licensed device and an additional portable device (laptop), the latter of which must be used by the single primary user of the licensed device. For the pre-installed OEM version, Microsoft wasn't as lenient, permanently assigning the license to the store-bought desktop or laptop.

For Office 2013, Microsoft has the same OEM-like restrictions for both the retail and OEM versions of the software suite. Thus, customers cannot transfer Office 2013 to another PC for any reason… at least, that's what the terminology indicates. The new wording for both retail and OEM doesn't say that the license is permanently bonded to the hardware like the original OEM license.

Still, this licensing could be a problem for the consumer who wants to upgrade their desktop or notebook, or need to replace the hard drive and reinstall everything. A dead computer is seemingly a dead copy of Office Home & Student 2013, Office Home & Business 2013 or Professional 2013.

The Age reportedly called up Microsoft to clarify the new license. "First I asked Microsoft's PR team to look into it and I was told retail copies of Office 2013 have a 'non-transferable license' -- not exactly making the situation clearer," said Adam Turner of TheAge. "So I asked for clarification and was told; 'Each retail copy of Office 2013 carries a one-device license. Once users install the software on a single PC, it can only ever be used on that one device.'"

A call to tech support provided different answers. After Turner was bounced around for 30 minutes, one said that Office 2013 could be reinstalled on a new computer. Another Microsoft tech support guru said no, it can't be reinstalled. Another said the suite can be installed on both the desktop and laptop simultaneously, repeating Office 2010's licensing allowance. It was clear that Microsoft's tech support had no clue, he said.

"A perpetual license of Office 2013 can only be installed on one personal computer," another Microsoft techie said. "This means 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."

It sounds like the licensing key may be tied to a computer's MAC address, as another Microsoft rep said that Office 2013 cannot be transferred from one PC to another PC. Customers can't even deactivate one PC, uninstall the software, install the software on a new rig, and then reactivate it. Is that surprising coming from Microsoft?

As Turner points out, all this questioning may seem like "splitting hairs", but consumers need to know if the hundreds of dollars they spent on software will go up in smoke along with their burned up dead computer.

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