I spoke to Jeff Teper, Microsoft’s Corporate VP of the Office Business Platform, who runs the SharePoint engineering group. I asked him to clarify something has puzzled me: the licensing for Office Web Apps. From a technical point of view, Office Web Apps is an add-on for SharePoint; it does not require the paid-for SharePoint Server (success to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server), but neither is it free – you may only install it if you have a volume license for Microsoft Office.
That much I understood; but what are the implications for businesses who have a volume license that does not cover everyone in the organisation? For example, I might purchase 100 volume licenses for the people who need to run Microsoft Office, but have another 50 who have OEM Office, or Open Office, or who don’t need to run Office at all. Some may be running Linux, on which Microsoft Office is not supported at all – though some have it working using WINE. Another scenario is where you have a SharePoint installation published to partners over the Internet. Is it OK to let them use Office Web Apps?
“The simple answer is that you do need a volume license for each user”, said Teper, though he added, “Our volume licensing is tailored to each customer, we will do specific things for each customer’s need. But the blanket statement is that its available for volume license customers per user.”
So would a Linux user need a license for Microsoft Office in order to access Office Web Apps, even though they couldn’t run the desktop version?
“Yes, that’s our default licensing.”
I also asked about how the licensing works. Is it enforced technically, so that the server refuses connections if they exceed the licensed number, or is it on a trust basis? Teper answered somewhat mysteriously:
“We provide volume license customers the tools to track that.”
My guess is that it is essentially done on trust (though perhaps subject to audit) but I couldn’t get Teper to confirm that.
Still, it seems to me that this licensing requirement will inhibit organisations from taking full advantage of what the Office Web Apps can do. The advantage of a web-based solution is that anyone can access it, both within an organisation, and beyond it if you choose to publish it on the Internet. I doubt there will be much enthusiasm for buying Office licenses for Linux users, though maybe the kind of organisation that has a full Microsoft-platform deployment does not have internal Linux users anyway.
In mitigation, it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft is also making Office Web Apps available for free, through Live Skydrive and Office Live Workspace. If you use those services, anyone with a Live ID can be given access to your Office Web App documents.