Office 365 users: Surface Pros now qualify as PCs or tablets

In a new Office 365 consumer licensing distinction, Microsoft is allowing Surface Pro and Pro 2 users to count their devices as PCs or tablets. Here's why this matters.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

I've gotten a couple of questions recently from individuals who are considering purchasing consumer-focused Office 365 subscriptions as to whether their Surface Pro devices count as PCs or tablets.


This isn't just a semantic exercise. The reason they care is Office 365 Personal allows users to install Office on one PC or Mac plus one tablet for $70 a year. Office 365 Home allows users to install Office on up to five PCs and/or Macs, plus five tablets for $100 a year.

Microsoft officials had said previously that Surface devices, because of their detachable keyboards, counted as tablets, not PCs. While Microsoft officials often refer to Surface Pros as "tablets that can replace your laptop," they also position them as competitors to MacBooks, not iPads.

When Microsoft unveiled Office 365 Personal in March, Office execs said that "Any Windows device that is touch enabled and has a detachable keyboard qualifies as a tablet." That meant Surface Pros and Surface Pro 2s were defined for licensing purposes as tablets.

But more than a few Surface buyers are using their Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 devices as their primary PCs. Some considering Office 365 wanted the option to count their Surface Pro as their PC and Office on iPad as their "tablet."

The good news: Microsoft is now allowing users to do this. When I asked Microsoft officials about their categorization of Surface Pros for subscriptions, a spokesperson sent me the following statement:

“We understand that the convergence of device categories can make it difficult to define some devices, and as a result, we have built in some flexibility for subscription customers. For example, an Office 365 Personal subscriber can define their Surface Pro as either a PC or a tablet.”

Because Surface RT and Surface 2 devices ship with Office included for free, the PC/tablet distinction is moot -- at least as for as long Microsoft continues to bundle Office on its ARM devices. But as Microsoft rolls out more Surface devices and delivers Office for Android tablets at some point, the PC/tablet distinction will become more important.

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