Microsoft restores transfer rights for retail Office 2013 copies

Microsoft restores transfer rights for retail Office 2013 copies

Summary: As part of its shift to a subscription model, Microsoft introduced a controversial "no transfer" restriction with Office 2013. Now, after an intense outcry from customers, the company has reversed course and agreed to allow users to transfer retail Office licenses between devices.


Office 2013 might be brand new, but its license agreement is already getting a significant upgrade. The new language represents a welcome change for buyers who prefer traditional licenses that don't require ongoing payments.

Bowing to “feedback from its customers,” Microsoft is changing the terms of the license agreement for the three retail “perpetual license” versions of Office 2013, restoring the terms that had been present in the corresponding agreement for Office 2010.

See also:

The company announced the changes in a formal statement and in a post on the Office blog.

Based on customer feedback we have changed the Office 2013 retail license agreement to allow customers to move the software from one computer to another. This means customers can transfer Office 2013 to a different computer if their device fails or they get a new one. Previously, customers could only transfer their Office 2013 software to a new device if their PC failed under warranty.

While the licensing agreement text accompanying Office 2013 software will be updated in future releases, this change is effective immediately and applies to Office Home and Student 2013, Office Home and Business 2013, Office Professional 2013 and the standalone Office 2013 applications. With this change, customers can move the software to another computer once every 90 days. These terms are identical to those found in the Office 2010 software.

If you purchase and install a retail copy of Office Home and Student 2013, Office Home and Business 2013, or Office Professional 2013, you will be able to transfer the license from one PC to another. As with previous Office versions, the new terms say you can make this sort of transfer no more than once every 90 days. The license allows only a single installation: the original copy must be uninstalled from the first device before activating it on the second computer. The license terms for OEM copies of Office that are purchased with a new PC remain unchanged; OEM copies cannot be transferred except with the PC itself.

In the original agreement for “perpetual license” versions of the new Office, Microsoft had specifically prohibited licensees from transferring the software, using unambiguous language: "You may not transfer the software to another computer or user."


That policy raised howls of protests from would-be Office buyers wondering what would happen if their computer failed. In a first attempt at damage control, on February 19, Microsoft took to its corporate blog, adding a footnote to a comparison chart that said: “An exception [to the no-transfer rule] is granted when the software is on a PC that is replaced under warranty.”

As I noted at the time, that attempt at placating customers fell short. And apparently someone at a senior level in the Office team was listening, because today’s announcement is a complete rollback of that controversial set of terms. Technically, in fact, the new terms for Office 2013 are looser than those that applied to Office 2010, because the new Office will be available to retail buyers only via Product Key Cards (PKCs). In Office 2010, the PKC license contained a no-transfer clause.

The new terms read, in part:

Can I transfer the software to another computer or user? You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you, but not more than one time every 90 days (except due to hardware failure, in which case you may transfer sooner). If you transfer the software to another computer, that other computer becomes the "licensed computer." 

(It’s also worth noting that anyone who wants the freedom to use Office on multiple devices should really consider one of the Office 365 subscription editions, which include the rights to install the software on up to five PCs or Macs, with a one-click deactivation process and no pesky 90-day limit.)

By the way, if all this seems familiar, it’s not your imagination. Microsoft tried a similar tactic with Windows Vista in October 2006. The original license agreement imposed a new limit of one transfer on retail copies of Windows. At the time, I called it “a sneaky change in Windows licensing terms.” After a similar outcry from Microsoft customers (a Microsoft executive acknowledged having received "lots of e-mail and other feedback" on this issue), Microsoft rolled back the changes and restored the original license terms less than a month later.

Although the change is effective immediately, the changes in the license agreement itself won’t be published immediately. (It takes several months for those sorts of legal changes to roll out.) It will also take a few months for the public activation servers to reflect the new policy, which means until then anyone who wants to transfer an Office 2013 license, regardless of the reason, will need to call customer support to make the change.

Microsoft’s Jevon Fark, a senior marketing manager on the Office team, tells me that those customer support agents are “ready and onboard, and the back-end activation system will be ready for them.”

I heard from dozens of potential customers who were put off by these terms initially. It will be interesting to see how many of them change their minds and decide to upgrade after all.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Back peddle

    People are not interested in costly consumable models. There are other options and ms knows it. It's not 1997 anymore.
    Trent Larson
    • Hmm... MS' love?

      'People are not interest'....I agree

      ...'Office 2013. Now, after an intense outcry from customers, the company has reversed course'...

      Hmm... MS' love?...or perhaps it would be for another reasons, as slow adoption;

      'Microsoft cuts the price of Windows 8 and Office 2013 to overcome slow adoption'(

      as usual MS; too little and late.
      Marco nn
    • Will there be a Microsoft Spring? Let's not be bullied...

      MS still continues to pave the way for more-developed, highly flexible, LESS-RESTRICTIVE, and better-funded competitive suites.

      Just out of principle, I'll nudge IT to start auditioning them.

      They won't miss just our business, but if enough companies rebel against MS's "bully-by-terms," we may soon have even better-developed choices for "Office" suites.
    • Give MS a little credit

      they listened to users and fixed the problem. I have doubts about Google or Apple changing their tune...crap they probably would have ignored it without a response!
      • If they did the right thing to begin with

        This wouldn't have happened.

        No credit.
  • I wonder if this will affect the prices charged to Volume Licensees

    We've had quotes from our MS supplier which showed a volume licensed copy of Office 2013 Standard was over 50% more than the retail price for the "Home and Business" edition (for Office Pro, the difference was nearer 20% for some reason). As an enterprise it is important that we can re-assign licenses as machines are replaced - it was this ability that I assumed we were paying for in the massively increased price. However, if we can now effectively have this flexibility through the boxed products, the case for buying through the volume license channel seems a lot thinner...
    • Volume Licensing includes management tools that retail does not

      Volume Licensing includes management tools that retail does not.

      If you've got 10, maybe 20 employees, you can scrape by without them, but tracking all the license keys and keeping the paper trail is still a fair amount of work. (And all the boxes, you have to meet the "proof of purchase" requirements, which on upgrades is a nightmare.)

      If you're actually a for real-enterprise, retail simply isn't an option. It's just not practical to handle hundreds or thousands of individual product keys without automation, much less deploy the packages, etc. There are other perks with VL as well, for example the home use program, support, etc. They may or may not have much actual real world value, but they do exist.
      Timothy Poplaski
      • Home licencing is great!

        This is a huge benefit of the VL. We can get a copy of Office for our home computers for something around $10 (I forget the exact amount). This is also a benefit for the company, because I can access work files at home even if I don't have a company machine with me.
        • $9.95

          Is what I paid.
        • is this really a good deal?

          I read an Analyst article about week ago where they laid out the claim that the HUP was the most expensive version of windows. It was cheaper to downgrade to the lower VL tier, and buy Employees the full price retail version of Office after first 2 or so years.
        • Good until you leave the company

          Then the license becomes void.

          You ready to fork out full price?
  • Key point v legal jargon

    Re-reading Bott and Branscombe's accounts of MSFT's attempt to withdraw the transferability of Office 2013 licenses between machines ... they appeared to be more concerned about the legal wording ... than the important point about a major capability being withdrawn.

    Indeed they appear unaware of the MSFT creep towards high-price subscriptions for diminishing returns. Hopefully all concerned will 'wake up smarter' ... before it's too late.

    Yes, I was one of those 'howling their protest'.
    • Oh give me a break

      Yes, when I wrote "I am infuriated" about this I was clearly defending Microsoft.

      This was a stupid thing to do and I have been clear about that from the first moment I saw it. One reason I focus on the wording in license agreements is because those are where the rights are documented.

      Ed Bott
      • It's your smiling avatar, Ed

        You need a scowling avatar, for more gravitas. One that validates your infuriatedness. Completely changes the tone for concern-trolling skimmers like Mr. Jackson.

        (sorry for making up a word, but I still haven't had any $%^#!ing coffee this morning)
        • I like concern-trolling skimmer ...

          ... it used to be called journalist :-(

          And I didn't skim: I read Ed's stuff a couple of times; I rang up MSFT UK asking for the EULA (which was carefully referenced but not provided in the Office 2010 upgrade offer) ... I got fobbed off with crap all the way.

          Then I saw why, with the attempt to change the transferability.
          Thankfully it seems to have failed.
          • The point is

            Your slam on Ed was unwarranted.
      • I Wish You Would Write More About The "WHY", Ed

        After all, writing about why Microsoft is doing what they are doing is the biggest story there is.

        It's one thing to talk about removal of START menu, making it so that POP3 cannot be used with email, changing license agreements, etc...

        It is another to write about WHY Microsoft is making these decisions. I am 100% certain that it is not because Microsoft is oblivious to the needs of their customers. It is because Microsoft is trying to lock-in their customers to fat revenue-generating schemes that benefit Microsoft.

        A professional writer to starts exposing a companies strategy (whether good or bad), while maintaining objectivity in criticism or praise, will gain far more followers than those who do not.

        I have yet to see an article written by you (or most other authors, for that matter) that said something like,

        "I suspect that Microsoft eliminated POP3 access because they knew that most ISP's like Comcast use POP3, and they knew that, if you wanted to get your POP3 mail, you would be highly induced to sign up for their service, since is able to act as an intermediary to get your Comcast email, at which point they will have achieved their objective: Getting you to use as gateway for your email service."

        See? A lot of readers will see this and say..."Aha...OK, this is all starting to make sense now. Son-of-a..*@!"

        But you will get tons of extra followers this way.
        Le Chaud Lapin
        • Seconded

          Bott and Foley rarely discuss intent.

          They don't see it.

          There was a time when journalists highlighted the devious manoeuvres of corporates or Government.
          • johnfenjackson@... your a 100% correct when you say those days are gone

            Todays journalists only sweet talk how lucky we are to such a benevolent styled company like Microsoft that only thinks of way to make us happy.

            In the real word of today Microsoft is still looking for more ways to lock their customers in. The only reason Microsoft is backing of some is because the average consumer has figured out he/she no longer needs to keep paying for a Office Suite. They have finally discovered that their are so many other alternatives that can do 95% of what you really need to do. Again, they also can actually save some money and the only reacquaint is a little time to learn a new program.
            Over and Out
        • You have a point, to an extent

          When writers have solid inside info, they can break a story and expose corporate malfeasance, ineptitude, goofiness or what-have-you with little or no concern for counterattacks. They'll have evidence to back up their claims. And the point made in another post about the decline of investigative journalism is sadly spot-on as well.

          But some writers are content with reporting the known facts and informing their readers of that and, if they lack inside info, avoiding speculation. I'm not saying Ed has relegated himself to that role but if he has, so what? Does every writer need to be an investigative journalist?

          Ed *has* made it clear he has no intention of being another Gene Munster or Peter Misek. I'd rather see the sort of sober reporting he's known for than the consistently crazy speculation of those clowns.

          On the other hand, what's stopping readers from trying to divine intent? Nothing here, apparently.