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Microsoft: Go old-school to lock down Office from changes

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 8, 2015
Recommends enterprises stick with one-time licenses of Office Professional Plus 2016 -- not an Office 365 subscription -- if they want to keep the suite static.

Professional Plus 2016 is the top-of-the-line "one-time" license -- Microsoft prefers that term to "perpetual" -- for Windows, and is available only to enterprise customers who purchase five or more licenses using a volume agreement. Those are the firms and organizations that prefer to license Office in a non-subscription fashion. (Other SKUs, or stock-keeping units, including Office Standard 2016 and Office 2016 for Mac Standard, are also available in perpetual form via enterprise agreements.)

Microsoft has not disclosed how or when it will update Office 2016 perpetual licenses, but the process will clearly not be identical to the suite obtained through an Office 365 subscription. One-time licenses are unable to adopt the CB or CBB tracks, for example.

The support document's recommendation means that one-time licenses will be treated as they have in the past -- with security patches and bug fixes only.

In the same document, Microsoft spelled that out. "Security updates are made available for the Office clients that you install by using .MSI files as part of the Office Volume Licensing program," Microsoft said. "New features are not delivered outside of full product releases. Recommended for devices on the Long Term Servicing Branch of Windows 10 [emphasis added]."

Essentially, Microsoft's making lemonade out of lemons. Because Office 365 omits an LTSB-like update/upgrade track, it's using Office Professional Plus 2016 to fill that purpose.

It also means that perpetually-licensed Office will remain part of Microsoft's line-up for the foreseeable future, at least for businesses.

Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, agreed. "I don't see the on-premises perpetual licenses going away anytime soon, that is, we'll see several more iterations, at least 2-3 major versions, if not more," said Miller in an email reply to questions.

Microsoft is, and has been, giving the edge to Office when delivered from an Office 365 subscription. Even the major upgrades Miller referred to -- say, an "Office 2019" three years from now -- will not match what's offered to Office 365 subscribers in the meantime. That's in keeping with Microsoft's long-running scheme to make Office 365 more attractive than perpetual licenses by regularly refreshing the applications on an accelerated schedule from a subscription.

"We're already seeing many instances where the features that arrive on-premises are much more limited, and the rights in Office 365 are much more broad," Miller added. "So while you're going to get rights to these new versions [if you pay for Software Assurance], they won't have as much as the hosted versions. There'll be multiple layers of incentives that start to make hosted more logical for many businesses."

Software Assurance (SA) is an annuity-style program that volume license customers can add to their payments; SA gives a company the right to upgrade to the next version of, in this case, Office, in return for flat-fee payments over a two- or three-year span. Many enterprises with one-time Office licenses purchase SA so they can migrate to the newer version when it releases, even though some licensing experts recommend dumping SA.


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