Is This The End of Microsoft Office as We Know It?

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft Consumer Services, Office, Office 365, OneDrive, Outlook.com, Skype with 61 Comments

Is This The End of Microsoft Office as We Know It?

Buried in a set of somewhat confusing announcements last week, Microsoft revealed that it is changing how it supports traditional versions of Office moving forward. Is this the end of Microsoft Office as we know it?

As a recap, Microsoft announced last week that it is aligning the development schedules for Windows 10 and Office 365. Given my focus on Windows, I pretty much just covered that aspect of the story: Windows 10 will now be updated with new features twice a year.

The Office 365 part of the announcement didn’t seem too interesting to me at the time. And once you really read through what they’re saying there, it’s still not all that interesting. After all, Office 365 customers pay a monthly or annual subscription fee and are kept up-to-date automatically, with fixes and new features. The schedule sort of doesn’t matter. If you stop paying, you lose access to the functionality.

But Microsoft also discusses something it calls “Office perpetual” in a separate but related post to its Office Blogs. And that bit, as it turns out, is a big change from how things have worked to date.

To understand why that is so, we need to decipher Microsoft’s terminology.

As you probably know, Microsoft offers various Office 365 subscription plans to businesses and consumers. Most of these plans include access to cloud-based services as well as locally-installable Office applications. On Windows, the most recent version of that locally-installable software is called Office 2016.

Microsoft really wants its customers to all move to subscription-based Office 365 offerings. But we are in a transitional period during which it offers access to its traditional, locally installable software in two ways: In standalone form (where you buy some version of Office 2016 or an individual application, like Word 2016) and as a subscription service.

Those standalone versions of Office are what Microsoft calls “Office perpetual.” They are limited in that they can only be installed on a single PC. But they are “perpetual” in that you pay once and can essentially use them forever … on only that one PC. The support lifecycle for these products is technically 10 years, with 5 years being what Microsoft calls “mainstream support,” during which new features can be added, and 5 years being “extended support,” during which Microsoft will only fix bugs. But there’s nothing stopping you from using a very old version of Office today. It’s not supported, perhaps, but it will still work.

On the subscription side, Microsoft offers an Office 365 solution called Office 365 ProPlus that is basically Office 2016 as a service. That is, it doesn’t provide access to cloud services and traditional Office applications. It just provides those traditional Office applications, which today is Office 2016.

Since the advent of Office 365, the fear in some quarters is that Microsoft will someday simply drop what it calls Office perpetual. In other words, if you want the Office desktop applications on Windows (or a Mac), you would need to subscribe to some Office 365 plan, be it Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Home, Office 365 Business Premium, or whatever.

Last week’s announcement does not state that Microsoft is moving in that direction. Instead, it spells out exactly how it will support Office 365 ProPlus and Office perpetual going forward. So in many ways, it is both changing the contract after the fact and supplying its customers with some clarity around how things will work going forward.

That said, the only major impact here, frankly, is to those people who wish to use “Office perpetual”. That is, if you would rather “own” Office 2016 (or some past or future version of the Office desktop applications) than pay monthly or annually for a subscription, then things are going to change.

“Starting October 13, 2020, Office perpetual in mainstream support will be required to connect to Office 365 services,” the Microsoft announcement notes. “For customers who aren’t ready to move to the cloud by 2020, we will also support connections from Office perpetual in mainstream support.”

I removed any references to Office 365 ProPlus from that quote to make it less cryptic. But it’s still confusing, I know. So let me translate it into plain English.

You can use any “Office perpetual” products with Office 365 services for the first five years of its product life cycle (during what Microsoft calls mainstream support). So you will be able to use Office 2016, the current version of “Office perpetual,” to connect to Office 365 services like OneDrive until October 13, 2020. After that date, you will need to purchase a newer version of “Office perpetual” (Office 2020 or whatever they call it) to continue using Office 365 services.

This doesn’t mean that Office 2016 (or any other “Office perpetual” version) will stop working. You can continue using these applications with local files in perpetuity—thus the name—and Microsoft will explicitly support the product with software fixes for the full tens years of support. So support for Office 2016 will end in October 2025, as you’d expect. But it will still “work.” There’s no cloud-based kill switch or whatever.

If you do not use Office 365 services, you have nothing to fear. (Well, other than data loss, I guess.) Perhaps you use Dropbox instead. Or whatever.

As Mary Jo Foley notes, the real point here is to push customers to Office 365. I feel like Microsoft is using some fear tactics here, frankly. But there are practical reasons to choose Office 365 over “Office perpetual,” including the fact that most Office 365 subscriptions let you use Office 2016 on multiple PCs, and switch between them at will.

“Microsoft also is letting its Office customer base know that as of October 13, 2020, Office 365 ProPlus will be the only fully featured, most up-to-date client that will connect to Office 365 services,” Foley explains. “Anyone using perpetual Office apps and clients may not get all the features at the time they are available to Office 365 ProPlus users. This change reflects what’s been happening with many other Microsoft products; the on-premises/local versions are updated less frequently and may not include all of the functionality that is in the cloud versions.”

Confusing? Sure. But it does look like Microsoft will keep traditional Office around for the foreseeable future, which should please the Luddites out there. But don’t be surprised to see the firm address this when Office 2020, or whatever it’s called, is announced. Something tells me that the days of “Office perpetual” are not really all that perpetual.

 

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Comments (62)

62 responses to “Is This The End of Microsoft Office as We Know It?”

  1. dspeterson

    This article seems to have been misread by sites all over the internet as the death of perpetual licensed office in 2020, I'm glad to see more pushback against that.


    Thanks Paul!

  2. Waethorn

    G Suite and Office Online are free for consumers for personal use. And you don't need to install software to use either one.

  3. MutualCore

    MS will pry my stand-alone Office Pro from my cold, dead hands. I might go Office 365 in a few years though.

  4. rdenos

    Makes perfect sense. When in extended support, perpetual Office will no longer receive feature updates. Having to support legacy Office in combination with Office 365 will hold back Office 365 development.

  5. IVEST

    Why am I a "Luddite" if I refuse to pay the Microsoft Office 365 annual tax?

  6. bgoodbody

    What is the connection between Office 365 Home and Office 365 ProPlus?


    Will Office 365 Home continue or will there be a migration?

  7. johnlavey

    Based on the posts to this article, there's a lot of interest in Office - (whatever you call it). I have been using Office for years and I love Excel, Word and Outlook....but this article only points towards confusion caused by Microsoft. How many different versions are there? How many different names? How many different price plans? It takes some study on my part to figure it out. Companies/Organizations have IT people who make the decision on what employees will use. All I have is my feeble mind. I had to reinstall Office 2016 a few days ago and the Office installation page seemed to be steering me toward Office 365, which I finally wound up installing. What ever happened to KISS? I guess simplicity doesn't pay the rent. Maybe next time I will buy Excel and get a word processing program and email program elsewhere. That will keep it simple.


  8. Tony Barrett

    I think the obvious answer to the headline question is 'Yes', but does this benefit MS more or the end user? Ultimately, MS want to move everything to a subscription service, as this guarantee's revenue and pushes other services (eg OneDrive) at the same time. Once you get people onboard, and the way MS integrate everything, you eventually end up with lock-in, which is exactly where MS want you. No other reason.


    It's in Microsoft's interest to do this, as is with most things they're doing at the moment. Having seen the problems with Office365 first hand (unreliability, broken features, internet dependency, performance issues), I have deep reservations about anyone making the move. MS will make it sound like it'll be the best thing you could ever do, but it's really the best thing you could ever do for them.

  9. JaviAl


    I stick in Microsoft Office 2010 because of the big number of removed features in Microsoft Office 2013 and 2016. Important features that me and our company needs: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc178954.aspx

    Also new features are basically "cloud only" and i never put our company or personal data in the cloud. It is irresponsible and meaningless. The new user interface is plain and ugly, very ugly, with bad colors, lack of contrast between areas that makes it less productive. Removing ClearType makes it more ugly too and more dificult to read. Also big fonts, and a lot of big spaces makes this new versions of Office to show less "data" or "info" in screen than Office 2010. Less density information on screen. Office 2013 and 2016 are less cofigurable or customizable than Office 2010, with less features, except cloud does never use it.

    I own a lot of "perpetual" Office 2010 licensed and i don't see new interesting features in new versions since i don't use and never in the future will use the cloud. I own our personal and our company servers.

    What new features has Office 2016 compared to Office 2013? And 2013 compared to 2010?


  10. melinau

    I'm happy with O365 which I use both Professionally and personally. In both instances its extremely straightforward to buy, setup & use, and 1TB of cloud storage is adequate for most purposes.

    The annual "Tax" for my subscription is around £120 and although I'd prefer to pay less, is perfectly acceptable given the services and software it provides.


    The "old-fashioned" method of "buying" software is perfectly OK too, but not for me.

  11. jpaterson84

    I'll have to do some more investigation, but this could mean big changes for some of our customers. One of our go to setups is Office 365 Exchange Online Plan 1 (just email hosting), and an RDS server where all the users login to access their data and applications. If a company spends between over $10,000 - $15,000 + on a server and licensing, including Office 2016 STD licenses @ $500 a pop for TS Office licensing, in 4 years time (or less depending at what point in the lifecycle they aqcuire a license) they will have to then spend thousands of dollars again to bring the Office license upto O365 standards.


    It looks like go forward we will go onprem Exchange, host our own for them or get Office with SA.


    As a side note, I've gotten pretty fed up with O365 in general. When we started as a partner I used to say things like "Hey, it's hosted by Microsoft - they have millions of users and there won't be any problems". Unfortunately between our on-prem Exchange users and our O365 hosted Exchange users O365 has more issues - BY FAR.


    ** END RANT **

  12. jpr75

    I have been using Office 365 for a couple of years now. It costs $99 dollars a year. I don't have to worry about patches and fixes and updates. It all happens in the background via the Office cloud. And I can easily control which computers get Office, and which don't. Installation is a breeze, and it is far easier to maintain than a stand alone verison of Office. If you have not tried Office 365, you should. "Owning" your applications is an outdated concept. Software is only as good as it is current. Subscription services are the future, and provide you with updated, current versions of your appliactions (and maybe soon your OS).

  13. Chris Blair

    This article has been in the "header" area of Thurrott.com for a long time. As interesting as it is, maybe it's time to move on ... and replace it with a new one? :)

  14. Shel Dyck

    Will ServiceWorker support in Edge change the Office web apps enough to make consumer office perpetual purchases a thing of the past?

  15. John Whalen

    I think MS office is walking dead at this point. My kids are growing up using google docs. Young people will want to use google docs and it's in the best interest of a business to use what people already know. Losing ED was a big mistake.

    • Pic889

      In reply to John Whalen:

      Google Docs is barebones, you can't​ even have automatic page numbers in the table of contents. IMO the real threat for MS Office is LibreOffice, which has reached a comfy Office XP level of features, which is good enough for most people and is free and quick to install. The only real problem is OOXML support, which is a necessity for university students who need to open academic templates and for people needing to open documents from co-workers, but LibreOffice is catching up on that front, so I don't expect that manufactured advantage in favor of MS Office to last.


      Which is the reason Microsoft is going the Oracle route of "milk existing customers for all you can and push subscription services on them before the compatibility advantage vanishes".

  16. Patrick3D

    The issue we're going to face at work is we currently have computers with Office 2010 and Office 2013 installed for Office365 "E1" users. Those users do not receive a license for the version of Office that "E3" users get to install on their PC's. Instead, they rely on older versions connecting to Office365 for email and OneDrive integration. In 2020 we will either need to buy them new licenses of whatever boxed version of Office is available at that time (assuming there is one), upgrade them to E3 accounts (not likely), or rely on the built-in Mail & Calendar apps of Windows 10 (shivers down the spine.) Ideally, they would just log in to Office365 and use the web apps but these are people who have difficulty remembering their username ([email protected]), some barely know how to use a mouse for that matter.

    • secretlyclever

      In reply to Patrick3D:

      We use Office365 Business Essentials at our company for hosted exchange and one drive. Most, but not all of our uses require each workstation have a local version of Desktop Outlook. Each workstation currently has a "perpetual" license to either Office 2013, or Office 2016, whichever was current when them machine was built or purchased.


      With this announcement, we have to decide to either switch our subscription to a version of Office365 that includes desktop software (expensive and unnecessary for some accounts), or move off of Office365 to another hosted email provider.


      From a cost standpoint, it would make more sense for us to switch to google for email, than switch to a desktop office subscription. Instead of a gaining additional revenue, they will probably just lose a customer in our case.

  17. ponsaelius

    I just had to help a friend buy PC for a home/office. He is the only user. He has a one off grant to buy the equipment and he shares his use with no-one. A perpetual license for Office will suit him. It's a scenario for many people who are not "luddites" but make a reasonable business choice.

    My friend is likely to keep his office PC for 5 years. His last one is 8 years old with Office 2007. Microsoft are not maximising subscription income with him but it does what it needs to do for his business requirements.

  18. rameshthanikodi

    I would love to see more flexibility from Microsoft's Office offerings, like, let me pick-and-choose what apps I want, and put an attractive price on it. I would love to see Word+PPT+Excel just for 1 user at $10/mo. No more silly SKUs that forces me to pay for Publisher 2016 and Outlook 2016 when I don't need it.

  19. nightmare99

    I will wager that the biggest Office 365 SERVICE that desktop office connects to are Exchange Online / 365 mailboxes rather than OneDrive for business or SharePoint as is suggested in the article. MS desperately wants to kill perpetual and they are just waiting to pull the trigger as soon as it makes business sense.

  20. SherlockHolmes

    Paul, do I understand that correctly? That means when a certain office version is longer as 5 year on the market, I can only use it when I move to the cloud version of that product?

  21. jrswarr

    As long as the pricing for Office 365 stays were it is (relative to inflation) - I see no reason not to buy the subscription. For a family it is a real deal - up to 5 accounts - each with a terabyte of OneDrive space and 5 copies of Office - how can that be bad?


    It's not like you really "owned" the software anyway - it was licensed - MS always retained the rights.


    I always upgraded my licenses to the latest version anyway - so give the cost of the license - I figure I am actually spending less and getting a terabyte of on-line storage to boot.


  22. IT

    This will be a problem for a subset of enterprise customers - anyone with shared workstations who use the perpetual license to avoid the 5-workstation O365 limit will now be faced with an in-place upgrade on their deployed workstations if they're consuming O365 services. We mostly try to avoid that kind of change in working systems.

  23. glenn8878

    So a Luddite is someone that wishes to not pay a subscription service? I barely use my Office 2010. I produce barely one new document per year. No one using Office perpetual should be forced to upgrade to Office 365. I have no need for new features.

  24. Steven Jack

    My employer offers me the option to "buy" home use versions of office for a small fee, for £10 GBP each I got Office Pro plus, Visio Pro and Project Pro, much cheaper than office 365, so while I might have paid, I take the view why pay more and these licences are perpetual, provided I remain employed by the company, and the company remain volume licence office customers.

  25. Waethorn

    Office ProPlus as a subscription has been around for nearly forever if you've been a Software Assurance or VL subcription customer. This is just obviating the complicated volume license agreement signup and requirements. You can get these subscriptions through a VL agreement though.


    AFAIK all the Office 365 "for Business" plans (which includes Office 365 Business and Enterprise plans, except K1) include 1TB OneDrive storage. And that includes the Office 365 ProPlus plan.


    365 ProPlus is just designed to be the enterprise equivalent to Office 365 Business.

  26. Mestiphal

    I work for a technology company, we get Office almost for free.. I got the license for Office 2016 Pro for $10.


    would love to move to a subscription service but nothing beats $10, unless it's something like $10 a year... I wonder if MS will take us in consideration.


    For the rest of my systems, the free versions of Word and Excel that you find in the windows store are surprisingly good enough

    • tboggs13

      In reply to Mestiphal:


      However, if your company moved to Office365 ProPlus, each license user would have the ability to install it on 5 PC's + have 1TB of storage on OneDrive. If you don't use 5 PC's at work, one or more of them could be a home computer at no additional cost to you. The only catch is that if you left the company, your Office subscription would expire after they disabled your account.


      Technically the $10 copy you get from your company is supposed to work the same way, but MS is responsible for terminating your updates and I don't think that ever happens.

  27. Andrey Medvedev

    Office 365 (and Office 2016) is broken - spell check does not recognize the difference between British and American English spelling. So is Office 2013. I had 5 different Microsoft employees try to resolve this problem. They all failed.

    • Nonmoi

      In reply to Andrey Medvedev:

      I remember that there was an option to switch between British and American English in spell check, is it not working?

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Andrey Medvedev:

      You have to change languages in several places in Windows.


      I run into the same issue with English (Canada), which starting with Windows 8, is now based on the English (UK) base language pack. See, prior to Windows 8, they lumped Canada in with the US, even though we spell more words like the UK/British English spelling. Now, what they've done since Windows 8, is to make English (US) unique, and base all other English language pack derivatives off of a "Colonial English" i.e. British/UK English. Because the US wants to be different.


      So I have to install it as English-UK (sometimes listed as English-GB, which, yes, I know....GB is not the same as UK). I have to change the Region to Canada, the user language to English-Canada, the system locale to English-Canada (en-CA), change the default time zone, and set the keyboard to US-English, which is represented as code 1009:00000409 (or "Canada with a US English keyboard"). Most separate keyboards sold here are US English, but if you buy a consumer OEM computer, they ship with Canadian-Multilingual, which isn't even a real keyboard layout - it's just a dual-labelled keyboard with US English and French Canadian keys in a different colour, for accents and such (and they use weird symbols that looks like << and >> for quotes instead of "). You have to switch between en-US and fr-CA in the OS. For a long time, whenever you chose Canada, Windows would install 3 keyboard layouts: English-US, French-Canadian, and the previously mentioned but non-existant "Canadian Multilingual".


      Once I get that stuff right on a clean install, the spell-checker in Office seems to work well enough, if installed afterwards. If Office isn't installed before the localization options in Windows are specified correctly, you have to go into the separate Office language settings to correct it. However, Microsoft still doesn't get localization correct, since as per the previous word "localization", Canada spells it like the US, with a "z", which we pronounce like the UK, as "zed", but don't spell it like the way Microsoft says the UK spells it, which is purportedly with an "s". But at least "Favourites" is spelled correctly, with a "u".


      So yeah, I feel your pain.

    • the_3rd_pedal

      In reply to Andrey Medvedev:
      My experiences with Windows 8 and 10 have been very similar in regards to my struggles with "Canadian English" and Microsoft products. See Waethorn. His is a great description of how it went for me, only I eventually gave up and started spelling "favourite" without the bloody u. I guess I lost my sense of humor. (Yeah, that was a very weak stab at humour)
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