Prior to Office 2013 customers who bought a retail copy of the suite were allowed to reassign a license to a different device. The purchase of a new PC for instance that replaced the old PC Office was installed on did not prevent the customer from moving the Office installation to the new PC.
This changes with Office 2013 which is tied to a single PC permanently. Once activated on a PC it is permanently tied to that PC. In other words, the Office 2013 license cannot be transferred to a new computer no matter if you continue to use the old PC or not.
That's bad for Microsoft customers for a number of reasons. Imagine installing Office 2013 on a PC that gets stolen the next day. If you had Office 2010 or earlier installed on the PC, you could simply use the software on a new PC without having to buy another license for that new PC. With Office 2013, you have to buy another license as you can't transfer licenses between systems anymore.
Microsoft states this clearly in the retail license terms of Office 2013:
Under our license we grant you the right to install and run that one copy on one computer (the licensed computer) for use by one person at a time , but only if you comply with all the terms of this agreement.
When you read the Office 2010 license terms you stumble upon this instead:
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.
The first question that may come to mind is why Microsoft made the change to the licensing terms. The answer seems obvious: it is also selling subscription-based packages now. Unlike Office 2013, Office 365 for Home allows users to install the software on up to five devices. On top of that, it is also available at no extra cost to all members of a household and it is possible to transfer licenses from one computer to another.
It is not clear how strict the new licensing terms will be enforced. I for one won't purchase Office 2013 or subscribe to Office 365. While I would use Office 2013 under the 2010 licensing terms, I can't use it under the new terms. If the PC I installed it on gets damaged or stolen, or if I plan to replace it with a new model, I'd have to buy another license to continue using it. That's insane.
There are several alternatives available, Open Office and Libre Office come to mind which both provide a similar feature set. Most home users should not have any issues switching to those programs instead.
Additional information about the new licensing terms are available on the PC World website.
Update: Microsoft has posted clarifications on the official Office blog. It basically confirms what is been said so far. What's new is that users who install Office 2013 on a PC that falls under warranty can receive an exemption to activate Office 2013 on the replacement PC.
Update 2: Microsoft made changes to its license agreement. Users can now once again transfer licenses of Office 2013 between PCs.Advertisement
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