Microsoft restores transfer rights for retail Office 2013 copies

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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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.

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