Why Does Microsoft Make It So Hard?

Steve Wildstrom / November 5th, 2012

Surface with Excel (Microsoft)Are you planning to use a new Microsoft Surface for business? You might want to think again, at least if you are concerned about legal niceties.

At ZDnet, Windows guru Ed Bott examines the strangely complex  legalities of using Microsoft Office on Surface. Office 2013–at least its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote applications–is part of the Surface’s Windows RT operating sustem. But the bundled software, Office Home & Student 2013 RT, prohibits use of the programs “for any non-profit, commercial, or other revenue-generating activity.” Which seems to mean that if I were writing this in Word on a surface, I would be violating the license.

It’s not as though you have a choice about the version of Office on your Surface. Office RT comes with it and is the only version that can be installed. (The forthcoming Surface Pro will support any Windows version of Office, but probably does not come with any Office software included.)

There are several ways out of this. If the Surface is owner by a company and if the company has an Office Volume License Agreement, the restrictions are waived. Same if you subscribe to a business version of Microsoft’s forthcoming Office 365 service, $150 a year for Small Business Premium, $20 per user per month for Office Professional Plus.

Bott says you are probably also in the clear if you own a fully licensed version of Office 2013 Professional and maybe Office 2013 Home & Student, although those products won’t ship for a couple of months.

Pages, Numbers,  and Keynote aren’t the greatest word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software in the world. But at least if you buy these iPad apps, for $10 apiece, you can use them for whatever you damn well please.


Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • synthmeister

    How is it that supposedly the most strategic advantage of the Surface device (Office) over other tablets, has to be included for free?

    Think about it.

    MS is stuck between the rock of Apple’s low cost app pricing model ($9.99 for Pages) and the hard place of competing with Apple’s hardware pricing and 100s of millions of Android/Apple mobile users who’ve done perfectly well without Office for several years now.

  • Rich

    Between the hardware issues and the software issues, the Surface is a strange tablet, laptop, or whatever. I’m pretty much in agreement with Tech.pinions that the Surface tries to be too many things at once. I had one but the wheels came off.

  • Most business users are already covered under volume licences – this is not an issue. But you can make it one if you need some page clicks to generate revenue from google ads.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Most enterprises are covered by VLAs; small businesses generally are not. (I know that volume licensing is a misnomer and that you can, in fact. get a VLA for a single license. But that isn’t how most really small businesses get their software.) Neither are individuals who are bringing their own devices to work, because (I believe at least; I haven’t read the full license) that the VLA license only applies to hardware owned by the licensee. So it is a problem for a lot of users, who, I suspect, will simply ignore the license terms–if they know about them.

      My point was that Microsoft licensing almost always makes things far, far harder than they have to be. Microsoft and its customers would both be better off if the company had fewer lawyers.

      By the way, there was no call for that second sentence. I picked up the gist of this piece, with credit, from Ed Bott, who is generally very supportive of Microsoft. And, if you look even a little closely, you’ll notice there are no Google ads on these pages.

  • TD

    the reason apps became so popular was because the iphone and more so the ipad were/are basically useless and had many basic features missing, another reason we were jailbreaking our phones, on the surface apps are not that important especially since we basically have full control of the file system and more websites are now geared for mobile. why do I need a recipe app when I can just Bing what I want, ditto for news, videos and the list goes on. Most of the mission critical apps are already available for W8RT. As far as being hard to use, my 70 yr old mom have no issue, same as my iPad friendly wife and kids, btw the kids are hogging the Surface, which I don’t mind, the main reason for the purchase was to get the off the ipad, which I will craigslist in a few weeks. further more if you are going to use software to make money, just how you would like to get paid for your hard work, so would the people that developed office, think of Surface version of Office as Freemium offering, for home and school kids use it to your hearts content, if you want to use it to make money, don’t be a cheapo.

    • FalKirk

      “why do I need a recipe app when I can just Bing what I want, ditto for news, videos and the list goes on.” – TD

      You have it exactly backward, TD. The trend is in the other direction. Rather than Bing or Google for a result, people prefer apps. Apps are, in essence, a personalized web just for us, always accessible, right on our phone or tablet.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Apps just work better than web pages. HTML 5 is a huge improvement, but it still hasn’t closed the gap. If the browser solved all problems, why did iOS devices need apps? (I actually think apps were part of the Apple plan from the beginning; they weren’t included in the initial version of the iPhone because the infrastructure wasn’t ready. But I admit this is speculation.)

      The people who developed Office do work for Microsoft, so their getting paid isn;t an issue. And my complaint isn;t so much that Microsoft wants Surface buyers to pay for commercial use of Office but that it has made doing so both quite expensive and needlessly complex. In essence, you have to pay for a full version of Office to use the limited version on RT legally.

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