Under fire, Microsoft revises Office 2013 licensing policy

Consumers can now transfer Microsoft Office 2013 registrations from one machine to another. Sort of. 

A Microsoft Office logo is shown on display at a Microsoft retail store in San Diego in this file photo from 2012.

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched Office 365, an updated version of its venerable software package. The release was pretty well-received. But it came with one very big catch: Consumers could only install the software on one machine (unless you purchased the expensive Home Premium or University versions of Office 365, which did allow five and two transfers, respectively). 

The only exception was if your computer crashed under warranty, in which case, presumably, you would have to show that warranty to Microsoft in order get the free transfer. Unsurprisingly, this policy did not make consumers very happy, and frustrated comments quickly piled up on the Office blog. 

"The licensing changes are ridiculous and anti-customer friendly," one user wrote. "In [whose] mind does it make sense to permanently attach a license to a computer, instead of to a user?" 

Microsoft weathered the criticism for a few weeks, and then today, it announced it would revise the transfer policy for Office. 

"Based on customer feedback we have changed the Office 2013 retail license agreement to allow customers to transfer the software from one computer to another," Microsoft's Jevon Fark wrote in a blog post. "This means customers can transfer Office 2013 to a different computer if their device fails or they get a new one. Previously, customers could only transfer their Office 2013 software to a new device if their PC failed under warranty." 

Note that Microsoft is not allowing unlimited transfers. It is only saying that if your computer crashes, and is consigned to the great scrapheap in the sky, you'll be able to download Office to your new machine. Well, it's a start. 

Of course, as Ed Bott of ZDNet notes, Microsoft has actually been through something like this before. 

"Microsoft tried a similar tactic with Windows Vista in October 2006," Mr. Bott writes. "The original license agreement imposed a new limit of one transfer on retail copies of Windows. At the time, I called it 'a sneaky change in Windows licensing terms.' After a similar outcry from Microsoft customers (a Microsoft executive acknowledged having received 'lots of e-mail and other feedback' on this issue), Microsoft rolled back the changes and restored the original license terms less than a month later." 

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