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Office for Windows 10 is not free for everyone

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 9, 2015
Business use will require 'commercial license,' but Microsoft leaves customers in the dark about licensing details for larger tablets, notebooks and 2-in-1s.

Helm was referring to how Microsoft includes Office Mobile -- the predecessor to Office for Windows 10 -- with Windows Phone and gives rights to everyone, including for commercial purposes. If Microsoft follows through with its Office Small licensing plans, Windows smartphones and small tablets won't have any advantage over those from rivals, a solid sign that the company is serious about its cross-platform strategy.

But while Office Small will be treated identically to Office on other tablets, Office for Windows 10 on tablets with screens 8-in. or larger, on touch-enabled notebooks and desktops, and on 2-in-1s like Microsoft's own Surface Pro 3 -- call that version Office Large -- may not be.

Microsoft wasn't willing to share licensing details of Office Large.

"During the Preview, we are trying out a few different scenarios and will share more licensing and pricing details at general availability," a company spokeswoman said.

With this split of Office for Windows 10, Microsoft sees Office Small as analogous to Office for iPad -- one for tablets -- but may lean toward Office Large as less a companion to the traditional desktop suite than a substitute for it, especially on 2-in-1s, which the company considers PCs, not tablets.

When asked whether consumers would be able to download Office Large from the Windows Store free of charge, and use their "core editing, viewing and printing" features, also free of charge -- as with Office Small -- Microsoft gave its "we are trying out a few different scenarios" answer.

For commercial purposes, Microsoft said that Office Large, like Office Small, would require "a qualifying commercial license to use these apps."

It defined "commercial license" as "consistent with those required for Office apps on iPad and Android tablets" -- in other words, an associated Office 365 business subscription. But the spokeswoman also said, "We will have more to share at general availability," hinting that there may be other ways for businesses to license Office Large.

The repeated assertion that it would not reveal all aspects of Office for Windows 10 licensing until closer to the ship date -- likely this fall when Windows 10 launches -- and the talk of trying out different approaches opens the door to speculation that Office Large will be treated substantially differently than Office Small.

Microsoft has at least three options: 1) Give away Office Large to consumers, as it will Office Small, 2) charge a separate fee for Office Large, both for consumers and businesses, the latter with an additional licensing fee, or 3) allow its use by subscribers of Office 365, owners of the upcoming Office 2016 desktop suite, or both.

Office 2016, the name of the impending upgrade to Office 2013 on Windows, perhaps also the name of the successor to Office 2011 for the Mac, will ship in the second half of the year, probably simultaneously with Windows 10.


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