Office for Windows 10 is not free for everyone

Microsoft will license some of the touch-based Office for Windows 10 apps in the same way it now handles those for iOS and Android.

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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.

Microsoft's hesitancy to define plans for Office Large wasn't surprising to Helm. "They may not know themselves yet what they'll do," Helm said.

Thus far, Microsoft has treated Office on mobile platforms like the iPad, iPhone and Android as an adjunct to the desktop suite, and so has been freeing some functionality. But it may not want to position Office Large in the same way, suspecting that it might replace Office 2016 on some devices, reducing revenue.

The most expedient solution would be to tie Office Large to Office 365, the rent-not-buy subscription program that the company continues to pitch both consumers and corporations. In that case, it would probably count Office Large as one of the five allowed PC or Mac installs for each user, not as one of the five smartphone or five tablet installs.

But if Microsoft sees Office Large as a replacement for Office 2016 (or its predecessor Office 2013), it may want to accommodate customers, especially enterprises that have no interest in adopting Office 365, with a way to obtain the apps, perhaps with additional licensing or fees, or as a part of the license of Office 2016.

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, was skeptical that Office for Windows 10's apps are a credible replacement for Office on the desktop. He noted that for all the hullabaloo over a touch-enabled Office in the past year, the mouse-and-keyboard-controlled desktop suite remains a much better choice for business tasks.

Directions' Helm agreed. "Office for Windows 10 has the basic features, and so is like Office Web Apps in that respect," said Helm. "But for more specialized tasks -- we rely on Outline mode in long documents -- Office for Windows 10 is just not there."

Microsoft also confirmed that, as the product name implied, the touch-first apps will run only on Windows 10, even though the Windows Store beta pages for the previews currently say "You need Windows 8.1 or higher to purchase and install this app."

That won't be much of a barrier for consumers, who thanks to Microsoft's one-year free upgrade offer from Windows 8.1 Update and Windows 7 SP1, will quickly adopt Windows 10.

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