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Microsoft Office 2013 license limits one install per computer

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Microsoft isn’t making it easy to upgrade to Office 2013. Even if you’ve figured out what programs you really need in your Office suite and what your budget will tolerate (see this chart that shows the different Office options), you now have to consider how many machines you’ll want running the latest version of Office.

It seems Microsoft quietly changed the licensing terms in its Office 2013 productivity suite so that you can no longer install the software on more than one device – ever.

Adam Turner from Australia’s The Age newspaper first reported on the changes in the Office 2013 End User Licensing Agreement, chronicling all the conflicting information he received from various Microsoft technical support and public relations staff about the updated language and found that retail copies of Office 2013 are now single-license. This means you can only install it on one computer – similar to the way operating systems come pre-loaded on devices but exclude backup media.

What does this mean for consumers? We spoke to Darren Shield, an attorney at the New York boutique intellectual property firm Zussman Law PLLC, to better understand the licensing terms in plain English. “The license agreement does limit license holders to a single installation on a single device,” Shield said.”Given the fallibility of hardware and the upgrade-ability of PCs, it is unfortunate that the new Office version limits users to such a degree.”

In other words, for someone who’s buying a brand new Windows 8 or Mac OS computer and just needs to install Office 2013, you can absolutely buy a single-PC copy of the software (Office Home & Student, Office Home & Business, or Office Professional 2013) and install it onto that specific machine. Simple, right?

Where it gets dicey is when you need to re-install the software that you have already legally purchased. Perhaps you recently upgraded or repaired your computer; for example, because your hard drive was infected with a virus and you need to re-install everything, including your operating system and software like Office. It happens. The updated licensing terms does not make it clear whether it allows you to re-install your copy of Office 2013. After all, your copy of the software’s activation code is already linked to a computer, but one with new parts or a freshly re-installed operating system may not count. Some users on Reddit have reported that they were able to call Microsoft’s technical support staff to get their install code re-activated. Of course, it depends on who you speak to on the phone.

If you need the flexibility to run Office on multiple computers at home, then the $99-a-year subscription-based Office 365 seems like a great deal because you can install the software on up to to 5 PCs or 4 Macs. Considering that each single-license copy of Office 2013 starts at $140 for the Office Home & Student edition, you’ll be spending $700 for the office suite for all those PCs, compared to just $100 for an entire year’s subscription to Office 365.

The question is: How long do you need to keep giving your money to Microsoft so that you can continue to use office tools you’ve already paid for? According to ZDNet, if you’ve subscribed to Office 365 for at least one year, you will have an opportunity to download your files so you can at least open or print them from your computer. But you won’t be able to edit your documents unless you use an older edition of Office, use one of the free Office Web Apps on SkyDrive for basic editing, or just re-subscribe to Office 365. Microsoft basically wants to make it as unpalatable as possible for you to let your Office 365 subscription slide, so going for the subscription-based software could end up costing you more hassle.

It seems the harder Microsoft tries to encourage consumers toward the Office 365 route, the more reasons they’re giving users to stick with their out-dated version of Office or move on to free alternatives like Google Docs and LibreOffice 4. Are you planning to upgrade to Office 2013 or 365? Let us know in the comments!

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