Did you know: Microsoft Office is licensed for two PCs?

In a twitter reply by Microsoft Australia (MSAU) today, we were reminded of a Microsoft Office license term that many people aren't aware of. The reply to a tweeted question stated that whilst the Home and Student edition of Microsoft Office is licensed for installation on up to three machines, all other versions of Microsoft Office are in fact licensed for installation on two machines. Specifically, the license terms state:

An extract from the Office 2010 licensing terms.
Extract from the MSLT.

The theory behind this not well-publicized license term is that many of today’s computer-users have both a desktop and a notebook (or other portable device), and thus it would be unjust for Microsoft to try to charge these users for both machines. Of course, a possible second reason for this license term is that more machines with Microsoft's Office installed equals less machines with competing productivity suites installed – and even if users aren't paying for both copies, that's still a win for Microsoft.

This license term applies to all Microsoft Office retail products, including the Academic editions.

Amendment: As iKenndac pointed out in the comments below, other productivity suites may have similar license terms (ie. Adobe products), so be sure to always check your license terms before shelling out for extra copies.

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Employees of businesses with Microsoft Office with Software Assurance have the ability to install a version on their home computer.

The author missed the most important thing: the portable device installation option is available only to the owners of retail versions of MS Office. Those who purchased a "key card license" can only install and activate the program on one machine once. Such license is non-transferable.

people aren't bothering to read the language of the license - it's true you can activate it on more than one machine any way you like, Microsoft doesn't have a way of checking - it's up to the user to buy as many licenses as they need to support it and use the software as they agreed. When you buy the retail package, you're getting access to the "Office system" which includes the portable feature of being able to use it on-the-go, hence ability to install it onto a portable machine in addition to your primary workstation. Just because it installs and activates in other scenarios doesn't make it legal or licensed for you to do so.

to be honest though I think Microsoft and most people know it's impossible to always use software in accordance with it's license, the main point of the terms is usually to give enforcement ability in the case of gross and purposeful misuse in cases orders of a magnitude larger than most home users would find themselves in. they could be more strict about their enforcement of the license but then you'd get a lot more false positives and restrict the functionality, something they don't seem to want to do...

here's the analogy of the situation: buy PC application that includes Blackberry or iPhone application to be used along side the primary product. It's a feature of the primary product and the two installations are linked to one another - one is intended purely for more portable situations and only if it's being used along side the primary workstation installation. That's the only time this term allows the installation on more than one computer.

i got to know about this when i bought my copy of Office a few years back during the Ultimate Steal promotion. It was a pleasant surprise really because i always thought it's one license per computer.

Even though the license says a desktop + laptop, you can install and activate it on 2 desktops or 2 laptops. Honestly, the license should be per household because honestly it is pretty stupid to purchase as many copies as there are people in your house. Like with me I have office 2010 and I have it activated on my desktop and on my dad's laptop. We both live in the same house so to me it is the same regardless. To me it does not make a difference if the second laptop i install it on is mine or my dad's. Outside my household is a different story.

soldier1st said,
when ms sells ms office it should say right on the front of the box for how many pc's your allowed to install it on.

the home and student versions do

shinji257 said,

I think he is referring to the other ones.

the other versions don't allow you to install onto "multiple PCs" - it's a single system/user license, it includes the right to use it on a workstation and a portable for when you move around.

ensiform said,
Will keys from technet apply here?

With TechNet, you can install one license on up to 10 PC's, I believe. And you can get a basically unlimited amount of those licenses (product keys), too.

It's only for testing purposes, of course.

Thus unless you're IT and not a content generator, the license if useless because if you want to commercially use the content generated, you of course need a more expensive license.

Hurricane Andrew said,
Bear in mind this does not apply to volume license editions either.

Volume license editions have the home use program So they don t need this clause.

majortom1981 said,

Volume license editions have the home use program So they don t need this clause.

Don't believe standard 'volume license' editions do, AFAIK Home Use Program is only for enterprise site agreements.

It's still only for ONE user though - you can't use to install it on your PC and your wife's PC in the same household. There are, however, other options - for example, HP sells a copy of Microsoft Home and Business for $250 that has a 3-user license similar to the Home and Student edition but includes Outlook for the 3 PCs. Not all vendors offer this 3-PC version (e.g. Amazon's $220 disc edition is only for the single user).

ewilts said,
It's still only for ONE user though - you can't use to install it on your PC and your wife's PC in the same household. There are, however, other options - for example, HP sells a copy of Microsoft Home and Business for $250 that has a 3-user license similar to the Home and Student edition but includes Outlook for the 3 PCs. Not all vendors offer this 3-PC version (e.g. Amazon's $220 disc edition is only for the single user).

How does Office know if it is on both your's and your wife's computer? Can it really tell the difference?

Pam14160 said,

How does Office know if it is on both your's and your wife's computer? Can it really tell the difference?

Office can't tell but if you're going to pirate it on the 2nd computer, why pay for one license at all? Because you've managed to pass the registration check doesn't mean you can ignore the terms of the license.

You're either legally in compliance or you're not. You can't have it both ways.

ewilts said,

You're either legally in compliance or you're not. You can't have it both ways.

Which is why I've always despised the idea of "licensing" something as opposed to the idea of "purchasing" something. If I buy it, and I'm the only user, it shouldn't matter if I want to install it on half a dozen computers. I get the complaint if two people are using it. But, if I'm the only one, and no two copies will be active at once, it shouldn't be an issue. Unfortunarely with the advent of different forms of DRM, it is.

Pam14160 said,

How does Office know if it is on both your's and your wife's computer? Can it really tell the difference?

Every time you start an Office program (like Works) it makes a broadcast request on the network to ask license numbers to others running instances of the Office suite. If it finds a program with the same license number it simply won't start. So yes he can tell the difference if the pc are on the same network.

Auto follow-up 'cause the edit button vanished. Obviously I was talking about Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc not MS Works (shouldn't post while half asleep, sorry).

Actually, I didn't know about this and I'm glad I do now!

I think most people figure that it has a license key and if they use it elsewhere, it just won't work because Microsoft will know. And most people don't read through the license agreement, so how else will they find out?

ThePitt said,
did you know that OpenOffice is free?

Yes. But Microsoft's Office is way better than any other office suite in the market (I use OpenOffice at work and have used Symphony <sigh> as well - but at home, I use MS Office - and I do use them on 3 computers). Specially if you are doing heavy spreadsheet work or presentations.

ThePitt said,
did you know that OpenOffice is free?

When I'm feeling nostalgic and want to look at UIs from the 90's, I will crank up OpenOffice.

ThePitt said,
did you know that OpenOffice is free?

You should know by now that the neowin crowd share a very dim view of OOo.

COKid said,
When I'm feeling nostalgic and want to look at UIs from the 90's, I will crank up OpenOffice.

Ah yes, OpenOffice always manages to make me feel nostalgic as well. Beyond that I have no use for it either. Well okay, that's not true either, it's also a great way of checking if the Trash still works.

ThePitt said,
did you know that OpenOffice is free?

It is free, and you get a free trip to an 1996 interface, and features of 1989 Word and Excel.

That wasn't nice, Word and Excel from 1989 had better development and macroing capabilities.

"yes I did, thanks"

Good to spread the word though

Single Windows Server 2008 R2 licenses are good for 1 physical and 2-5 virtual machine installations too, that goes unreported as well.

Actually I didn't know that! I worked retail or 6.5 years and consumers never knew anything about licensing terms, so we had it drilled into us - yet I never sold Windows Server products. If only Microsoft was a little clearer about this stuff

c e 3 2 0 said,
"yes I did, thanks"

Good to spread the word though

Single Windows Server 2008 R2 licenses are good for 1 physical and 2-5 virtual machine installations too, that goes unreported as well.


It depends on which license you get. Datacenter is unlimited virtual machines . enterprise is 5 and standard is 2

The article is inaccurate in stating that the license term allowing you to install the software onto a secondary portable computer is unusual - most software I've come across (including most of Adobe's stuff) allows this.

iKenndac said,
The article is inaccurate in stating that the license term allowing you to install the software onto a secondary portable computer is unusual - most software I've come across (including most of Adobe's stuff) allows this.

Define 'most software', because even Adobe didn't adopt this policy until after Microsoft made it fairly standard, which is about the time laptops started to become common for most users.

It is more 'common' now, but just a few years ago before the Office License was changed to allow this, it was very 'uncommon'.

Not sure how but I managed to install and properly activate over the internet my Windows XP Professional copy bought in 2001 on:

- The original PC it came on
- A new PC
- eMac through Virtual PC
- iMac 2007
- iMac 2007 through VMware Fusion
- iMac 2008
- iMac 2008 through VMware Fusion
- Mac Pro 2009
- Mac Pro 2009 through VMware Fusion

Does Windows XP's activation reset or something?

.Neo said,
Not sure how but I managed to install and properly activate over the internet my Windows XP Professional copy bought in 2001 on:

- The original PC it came on
- A new PC
- eMac through Virtual PC
- iMac 2007
- iMac 2007 through VMware Fusion
- iMac 2008
- iMac 2008 through VMware Fusion
- Mac Pro 2009
- Mac Pro 2009 through VMware Fusion

Does Windows XP's activation reset or something?

XP doesn't have as hard of a limited activation, and even when you hit it, you can do the verify by telephone and then call the 800 number and they will still give you an activation code.

Vista and Win7 hit the activation limit sooner via the automated system, but again if you call the 800 number, etc, 99.9% of the time they will issue you an activation code.

So the locks are in XP and newer versions, but it doesn't mean what you are doing is totally legal, and it also doesn't mean that Microsoft cares much for the casual user 'stretching' the rules.

agreenbhm said,
What if the second desktop is in a rolling cabinet? Does that qualify as a "portable device"?

Laptop's?
Dont think you can install it on an iPhone heh

agreenbhm said,
What if the second desktop is in a rolling cabinet? Does that qualify as a "portable device"?

Indeed. I'd say you'd have a case if you wanted to argue the definition of portable. The dictionary defines a device to or an appliance to be portable if it is designed to be easily carried. You can buy desktop cases with handles, a design element allowing them to be easily carried.

Firethorne said,

Indeed. I'd say you'd have a case if you wanted to argue the definition of portable. The dictionary defines a device to or an appliance to be portable if it is designed to be easily carried. You can buy desktop cases with handles, a design element allowing them to be easily carried.

Or just install it and Microsoft will never know the difference...

andrewbares said,

Or just install it and Microsoft will never know the difference...

that's my line of thinking and the prices they charge you they should definitely NOT complain if the same user who bought it put it on 2 devices of his/her choice.

The headline is accurate insofar that a laptop is a PC also. It would be inaccurate to say that Microsoft Office is licensed for two Desktop PCs. Plus the article itself (as Brian mentions) clears up any misunderstandings. This is really a fair and good thing on Microsoft's part.

The headline isn't accurate enough. It should say that Office is licensed for a desktop and a laptop in case people read it and think that they can install on two desktops.

jakem1 said,
The headline isn't accurate enough. It should say that Office is licensed for a desktop and a laptop in case people read it and think that they can install on two desktops.

That's what the article is for.

Brian said,

That's what the article is for.

Yes, the article said the same but the title is not,a PC is not a desktop or laptop.

Magallanes said,

Yes, the article said the same but the title is not,a PC is not a desktop or laptop.

There isn't space on the page to fit in a title long enough to contain all that information.

jakem1 said,
The headline isn't accurate enough. It should say that Office is licensed for a desktop and a laptop in case people read it and think that they can install on two desktops.

which except for OEM, is the normal. At least for Office. Found this out years ago with Office XP. When I was in the CCNA program (oh gave that up though) ended with MCSE.

Magallanes said,

Yes, the article said the same but the title is not,a PC is not a desktop or laptop.


A laptop is a PC and a desktop is a PC, so technically the title is correct and considering what Dave said, I don't see anything wrong with it.

Calum said,

A laptop is a PC and a desktop is a PC, so technically the title is correct and considering what Dave said, I don't see anything wrong with it.
I've known about this licensing term for awhile, but to be clear this isn't a license to where you can install it on just any two PCs; the license is still restricted to the original user/owner of the software and that's the intended purpose, to give purchasers the ability to use it at home and while traveling and out and about in more portable form. There is no "hidden" or secret agenda to get Office installed on more machines with this licensing term, it's a value added feature enabling people to buy one copy and use it at home and when they go out.

jakem1 said,
The headline isn't accurate enough. It should say that Office is licensed for a desktop and a laptop in case people read it and think that they can install on two desktops.

Well technically, even desktops are fairly portable...