Will a household license convince you to go with Office in the cloud?

Microsoft has gone public with pricing for the consumer and small-business versions of the next Office suite, which will be available both 'for rent' and 'for purchase.'
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

On September 17, Microsoft took the wraps off pricing for its coming Office release and confirmed the timing of the Office 2010-to-Office 2013 upgrade program about which I blogged last week.


Now it's time for those mulling how, when and if to move to the latest version to consider whether there are enough cloud carrots to offset the on-premises sticks.

As my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott notes, Microsoft is going to make it pricier than ever for consumers and small businesses to use the localized Office 2013 release and more attractive to use the Office 365 complements of these products. This is Redmond's not-so-subtle way of attempting to convince more users to go the subscription/cloud route.

But there are other points to consider, too, if you're unsure about the idea of "Office in the cloud" ... like I am, to be honest.

First, in spite of its new "Office 365" naming conventions, the new Office 365 Home Premium and Small Business Premium SKUs are not cloud-only. They are sold on a subscription basis, meaning users agree to "rent" the Office software for a year when they purchase them. Both of these allow users to install local versions of the key Office 2013 apps onto their PCs and tablets for use when offline. That's a relief, to me. I am not ready to go cloud-only with Office -- even though I admittedly use Notepad for my basic word processing needs more than I do Word these days.

While they aren't cloud only, these two brand-new Office SKUs -- which Microsoft first introduced in July  -- do offer some of the upside that users get when they use Office 365 and other cloud services: Namely, you get regular feature updates and bug fixes in a regular, more timely manner. You don't have to wait for Service Pack 1 or Update Pack 1 to get these. Instead, those who subscribe to Office 365 Home Premium or Small Business will get these updates on some kind of regular schedule (at least twice a year to start, the Softies say).

There's also the new "household" license which Microsoft is introducing as part of the Office 365 Home Premium and Small Business SKUs to consider. A "household" license is much like a family pack. It will allow everyone living at a single address to be considered a pool of users. This pool will be able to install the new Office 365 SKUs on any combination of up to five Windows PCs, Windows tablets and Macs for a single price.

I'm somewhat of an anomaly here. I am a one-PC household. (I do have an iPad, but that is not currently covered by this household license. It's Windows and Mac OS only.) So why would I agree to "rent" Office for use on up to five devices for a year?

I admit it's the word "rent" that makes me hesitate more than the overkill on licenses. I want to own my software! But as Bott has noted before, no one really "owns" software ... even software you purchase outright. It's perpetually licensed to you only for use on certain devices.

If I think about Office subscriptions more like music subscriptions, I get a little less queasy. When you subscribed to Microsoft's ZunePass service, you paid for the rights to listen to music on certain devices for a set period of time. When you stopped paying, you no longer could listen to that music (unless you had purchased it using song credits or points).

In the case of Office 365 Home Premium and Small Business Premium, if you stop paying for those SKUs after a year, you'll have a grace period to figure out what to do with your stored information. In the case of Home Premium, users will be able to download their saved SkyDrive- and/or locally-saved data, open it with Office Web Apps and read/print it for some set period of time. (Microsoft isn't currently specifying how long that will be.) In the case of Small Business Premium, you'll have some kind of currently-unspecified grace period, as well, when you can access, read and print data stored in SharePoint Online.

Microsoft execs still won't talk about planned RTM or availability dates for Office 2013, but have said the RT version of Office 2013 will start rolling out in November. I continue to hear Office 2013 for PCs will RTM in November, as well, with general availability slated for early 2013.

So am I ready to bite the cloud carrot and pay $8.33 a month (or $99.99 a year) for Office 365 Home Premium or $12.50 per user per month ($149.99 a year) for Office 365 Small Business Premium once they are available? I'm still undecided, but I'm at least considering making the move. What about you?

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