Microsoft’s muddled licensing for Office Web Apps

I’ve been reviewing Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2011 – mainly the standard edition as that is the one that is finished. The more interesting cloud-oriented Essentials version is not coming until sometime next year.

In its marketing [pdf] for SBS 2011 Microsoft says:

Get things done from virtually wherever and whenever. With Office Web Apps (included in SharePoint Foundation 2010), users can view, create, and edit documents anyplace with an Internet connection.

This appears to be only a half-truth. You can install Office Web Apps into SharePoint Foundation 2010, but it is not included in a default install of SBS 2011 Standard, and as far as I can tell the setup for it is not on the DVD. If you try to download it, you will find it is only available through the Volume Licensing Service Center, and that you require a volume license for Microsoft Office to get it. You can also get it through TechNet, but this is for evaluation only.

The Office Web Apps site states:

Business customers licensed for Microsoft Office 2010 through a Volume Licensing program can run Office Web Apps on-premises on a server running Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 or Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

and it also appears that each user requires a volume license for desktop Microsoft Office in order to use it. In other words, the Client Access License for Office Web Apps is a volume license for Office. You cannot purchase a volume license for 5 users, and then have everyone in your 50-person organisation use it.

This approach to licensing makes no sense. In fact, I’m not sure it is even internally consistent. Part of the web app concept is that you could, if need be, walk up to a PC in an internet cafe, log in to SharePoint, and make a quick edit to a Word document. You are not going to ask the management “is this machine correctly licensed for Office Web Apps?”

What if you are using Linux, or an Apple iPad (it almost works), or a RIM PlayBook, or some other device on which Office cannot be installed? These are scenarios where Office Web Apps is particularly useful; Microsoft cannot expect users to buy a license for desktop Office for machines which cannot run it.

Note Office Web Apps applications are severely cut-down in comparison to the desktop editions. It is not even close to the same thing. Further, Microsoft lets anyone in the world use Office Web Apps for free – provided it is on SkyDrive and not on a locally installed SharePoint.

Microsoft is also happy to give users of Office 365, the forthcoming hosted version of server apps including SharePoint, access to Office Web Apps:

Work from virtually any place and any device with the Office Web Apps

I’m guessing that somewhere in Microsoft the powerful Office group is insisting that Office Web Apps is a feature of the desktop product. Anyone else can see that it is not; it is a feature of SharePoint. Excluding it from SBS 2011 by default does nothing except to complicate matters for admins – and it is a fiddly install – thus reducing the appeal of the product.

Incidentally, I see nothing unreasonable about Microsoft charging for an on-premise install of Office Web Apps. But it should be licensed as a web application, not as a desktop application.

For more on this see Sharon Richardson’s post and Susan Bradley’s complaint.

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1 comment to Microsoft’s muddled licensing for Office Web Apps

  • Michael Thuma

    They simply want to have people licenced via the CAL and volume licensed. Thats all. See it as an extended offering to the business users on Windows.

    Licensing of web applications will be per company an not licensed per seat. This is why MS cannot do it. The cloud app bussiness is a cheapest mass business. What is attractive when you look at 37signals … you have an application for an unilimited number of users in your company at a fixed reate per moth. Beside other criterias … this is finally the point. It is here … it seems to be attractive for both parties:).