January 30, 2013, 4:23 PM — Microsoft's new pay-as-you-go Office 365 subscription plans differ from traditional buy-once software in one important aspect: When customers stop paying, the applications stop working.
Although that makes sense -- Office isn't freeware -- and the practice isn't new to consumer software, the difference between buying and renting software will quickly become apparent when an Office 365 subscription expires or is canceled, according to information posted by Microsoft.
ZDNet blogger and long-time Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley first reported on Office 365's behavior after a subscription runs out.
Office 365 Home Premium, one of the two software rental plans introduced Tuesday, requires that customers pay $100 a year or $10 per month for the right to install and run Office 2013 on Windows and Office for Mac 2011 on OS X, on as many as five devices. The other plan, Office 365 University, charges $80 for a four-year subscription to the same Windows and OS X suites.
Those suites -- Office 2013 for Windows includes seven applications, Office for Mac 2011 has four -- are installed locally, and run, as traditional-style software does, from a customer's hard disk or SSD (solid-state drive).
But only as long as the subscription is valid.
Stop paying, and the applications are crippled, Microsoft noted in an extensive FAQ on Office 365.
"Once your Office 365 subscription expires, the Office software applications enter read-only reduced functionality mode, which means that you can view or print documents only, but you will not be able to create new documents or edit existing documents," the FAQ states.
The Office applications do not vanish from the hard disk or SSD, but retreat into that reduced-function mode. Documents created with those applications are untouched.
It's unclear when the read-only mode engages -- Microsoft's not been specific about the timing -- but warnings will be issued in the applications and via email after the subscription expires, but before the suite stops working full-time.
To regain the lost functionality, a customer must purchase a new subscription to Office 365, or buy a "perpetual license" copy of the suite: The latter is the familiar pay-once, use-forever type of license.