How much do you have to pay to use Office 2013 RT for work?

Yes, you can legally use Office 2013 to do real work on a Windows RT device like Microsoft's Surface. But be prepared to pay extra. I've got details, including the monthly price tag.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

p>Can you use Office 2013 to do real work on a Windows RT device like Microsoft’s Surface or Dell’s XPS 10?

Of course you can. But you might have to pay extra if you want to stay within the letter of the Office license agreement.

Windows RT (on all devices, not just Microsoft’s Surface) includes four Microsoft Office programs that have been recompiled to run on ARM-based systems. These versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote include most of the features of their counterparts in the Intel versions of Office 2013. (A list of missing features is here.)

You can get an awful lot of business-related tasks done, like writing legal briefs and sales pitches and calculating budgets and timelines. You’re most likely to be successful if you’re an individual or a small business that doesn’t rely on custom templates or add-ins (corporate documents have bigger problems if they rely on macros or other custom code not supported on Windows RT).

So, yes, you can use Office to create and edit all sorts of work-related documents. But the bigger issue is whether you can legally do all that businessy stuff, given this prohibitive language in the Windows RT license agreement:

Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (“Office apps”) are Windows apps included with Windows RT. Office apps are governed by some additional terms and are part of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT or Microsoft Office 2013 RT. Office apps are licensed to you for your personal, non-commercial use, and you may not use them for any non-profit, commercial, or other revenue generating activity. [emphasis added]  

That’s the section that has raised a mild panic among early buyers of Surface devices. My colleague Mary Jo Foley already revealed that a solution was possible. In this post, I have more details, including specifics from the respective license agreements.

For some Surface users, the issue is completely irrelevant.

If you are a student using a Microsoft Surface or another Windows RT-based device, you can use all of those programs for your schoolwork. Under those same terms, you can use the software for personal documents (letters to the editor, holiday newsletters) and non-revenue-generating work (church newsletters, flyers for your homeowners’ association).

The same restrictive terms hold true for the boxed editions of Office 2010 and 2013 Home and Student. No revenue-generating activity is allowed.

So how do you get around those restrictions? By paying extra for a commercial use license. A Microsoft FAQ provides the general answer:

Can I use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for work or business?

As sold, Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview and the final edition are not designed for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities. However, organizations who purchase commercial use rights or have a commercial license to Office 2013 suites can use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities... [emphasis added]

And where do you buy those rights? They come along for the ride if you acquire a volume license for Office or if you subscribe to a business edition of Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which is now in trial.

If your organization buys Office as part of a Volume License program, you are specifically exempted from that portion of the Office 2013 RT license. Microsoft’s October 2012 Product Use Rights agreement includes this new section, headed “Office Home & Student 2013 RT Commercial Use Rights”:

We introduced a new license to add commercial use rights under separately acquired licenses for Office Home & Student 2013 RT.  These rights are also available to customers licensed for Office Professional Plus 2013 and Office Standard 2013 under their Office license (for the primary user of the device to which the license is assigned) and Office Professional Plus Subscriptions.

Later in the document, the description of rights gets more specific, with a list of five additional terms, including these three extremely relevant items:

You must assign each license to a single device.

This license modifies your right to use the software under a separately acquired Office Home & Student 2013 RT license, by waiving the prohibition against commercial use of the software. [emphasis added]

If you acquire Office Home & Student 2013 RT commercial use rights under an Office Professional Plus or Office Standard license, you may permit the primary user of the Licensed Device to use a separately licensed copy of Office Home & Student 2013 RT as provided here.

A Volume License agreement is the only way to buy Office Professional Plus or Office Standard. You don't have to be a big business to purchase a volume license, either; you can buy a single volume license for either product.

I used the Microsoft License Advisor to put together a quote for perpetual Office licenses for a hypothetical office: I got a price of $373 for Office Standard and $508 for Office Professional Plus. I’m sure you could shop around and get a better price, but there’s the baseline. (Enterprise customers get substantial discounts, as do Academic and Government customers.) If you squeeze four or five years of use out of an Office version, that’s a fully amortized cost of roughly $5 to $10 a month just for the software.

Currently, the Office Professional Plus subscription offered through Office 365 is $20 per user per month, which includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync accounts as well.

If your organization pays for your copy of Office using any of those Volume License or subscription options, you are exempted from the Office 2013 licensing restrictions. Get to work.

But what if you're not a volume license customer? In that case, you need a commercial license to a version of Office 2013—which isn’t on sale yet. But the Microsoft Office Pre-Launch Offer now being offered to Office 2010 buyers makes it clear what you’ll get with an Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription:

Office 365 Small Business Premium combines the most up-to-date Office applications plus professional cloud-based email and calendars, a public web site, high definition video conferencing, file sharing, and robust security features. The trial includes up to five (5) commercial user licenses. If you would like to add additional users beyond the 5 licenses included with this offer during the trial period, you will need to convert your free trial to a paid subscription for all users.

In the current Office 365 trial, of which I am a member, the number of included users is now 10. (Don't confuse that with the number of devices on which each user is allowed to use Office, which is five.)

Office 365 subscriptions, as I’ve noted earlier, are sold on a per-user basis. For $150 annually, your Office 365 accounts includes commercial use rights that also apply to up to five devices, one of which can be a Surface or other Windows RT device. You also get a very good Exchange account (secure email and calendaring) and SharePoint storage, both of which are valuable. The total monthly cost is $12.50.

If all you want is Word, that might be too steep a price to pay. But the full selection of software that comes with an Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription (including Outlook and Lync) is equal to what’s in that $508 Pro Plus package. And the enterprise-grade email with support for Exchange ActiveSync on any device is easily worth $5 a month, in my estimation.

Of course, if you're a small proprietor and you use Office for casual use that occasionally involves business, the Microsoft licensing police are not going to break down your door. In addition, IT pros can make a strong case, at least in these early days of the Office 2013 product cycle, that you are well within your rights to evaluate these new programs using a TechNet license.

Microsoft’s message here is pretty clear. If you’re using Office for business, you have to pay more. If you’re using it for personal and school reasons, you get to pay less. But the per-user licensing softens the blow considerably if you own multiple devices. If you have a desktop PC, a Mac, a notebook, and a tablet, you don’t have to worry about buying licenses for each one.

Boxed editions of Office 2013 will be sold using a per-device licensing model, and I haven’t been able to track down those license agreements yet.

I did, however, find this matrix (which I've abbreviated slightly) on Microsoft's pre-launch offer page for Office 2013. If you buy a retail business version of Office 2010 today, you get a free upgrade to an equivalent Office 2013 edition. Interestingly, the matrix specifically mentions a "commercial license":


Now go back and reread the language in that FAQ page: "organizations who ... have a commercial license to Office 2013 suites can use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities."

I’m not holding my breath that the Home and Business version, which includes commercial-use rights, will specifically mention rights for use with Office 2013 RT. (Please surprise me, Microsoft.) But I think it's a fair and reasonable interpretation that the "commercial license" you acquire with Office Home & Business or Office Professional is sufficient to allow business use of Office 2013 RT.

Editorial standards