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Office 2011 pricing penalizes owners of multiple Macs

Microsoft has announced pricing for Office 2011, offering an apparent $30 reduction in the Home and Student version, when compared to Office 2008’s Home and Student Edition ($119 versus $149). But if you look behind the raw cost, you’ll see it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

First of all, there’s a big change in functionality in the Home and Student version of Office 2011: it no longer includes an e-mail client. Office 2008 included Entourage, while Office 2011 includes Outlook—but only if you buy the $199 Home and Business version of Office. So while Home and Student users will pay $30 less than they did before, they’ll lose Entourage (and its associated project management feature, which, in my mind, was one of the hidden gems in Office 2008).

While this change is bearable—given the prevalence of Apple’s own Mail application—there’s another change that, I feel, unfairly penalizes owners of multiple Macs. The Home and Student version of Office 2008 included three CD keys, each of which allowed installation on up to two Macs—that’s a total of six Macs on which you could install Office. However, you could only use one copy of Office at a time; a network serial number check wouldn’t let two copies with the same serial run at the same time on the same network.

As someone who owns five Macs, this setup was perfect for me: I’m one person, and I don’t need to run more than one copy at a time. So I could install Office on all five of my Macs, and move my work easily between them by simply insuring that Office wasn’t running on any Mac other than the one I wanted to work on.

With Office 2011, Microsoft has switched to an install-based licensing plan. The $119 Home and Student version allows one installation, as does the $199 Home and Office version. For multi-Mac households, you can buy a $149 three-install version of Home and Student, or a $279 two-install version of Home and Office. (Why does a user buying a more-expensive, higher-end version of the suite get one less install than someone buying the cheaper version of the program? That makes no sense to me.)

So to fully license my five-Mac household—even though I’m the only user of Office—I’m looking at either $298 for two copies of the three-install Home and Student versions, or (gasp!) $757 for the Home and Office version (a single-install version at $199, and two two-install versions at $279 each). It feels like Microsoft is penalizing those who own multiple Macs simple because they own multiple Macs.

I am one user. I cannot physically use more than one copy of Office at one time. (I guess I could put my laptop next to my desktop, and move my hands from keyboard to keyboard…but still, I’m really only using one Mac at a time!) And yet, simply because I own multiple Macs, I have to pay Microsoft as though I’m installing and using all of those copies at the same time. Why should I have to pay so much more for the ability to work on any Mac I own? It makes no sense.

The old policy of serial number checking made much more sense for owners of multiple Macs—we could be fully licensed for a reasonable amount of money, and easily work on any of the Macs we owned. Now, looking at Office 2011, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I cannot fathom having to deactivate and reactivate Office each time I want to move from one Mac to another, but I similarly can’t fathom paying two or three times what users with fewer Macs pay to fully license Office.

Microsoft should consider those single users with multiple Macs in its pricing plans. There’s no rationale explanation as to why it should cost me much more to use your product than it costs any other single user.

[Macworld senior contributor Rob Griffiths is Master of Ceremonies at Many Tricks. Previously he was a Macworld senior editor and editor of Mac OS X Hints.]

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