"This issue is really the most significant for [users at] small/medium businesses who thought they could get a Windows RT device and not need to pay for Office," said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft who follows Office for the research firm. "[But] there is no free lunch."
Those users -- and potential buyers of Windows RT hardware, including Microsoft's Surface RT, which shifted into pre-order mode Tuesday -- may have read the accounts this year that noted the inclusion of Office with Windows RT, and which cited analysts who said the deal could be a money-saver for business, which would get the suite for "free."
But Microsoft's customers, especially large organizations, should have, in fact, may well have, expected this.
"This isn't new," said Miller. "[Office] Home & Student has always had these limitations. The issue arises because it is integrated into Windows RT, and consumers could unwittingly buy a device with Windows RT thinking 'I have Office,' do commercial work on it, and then fail to be within the license guidelines."
Daryl Ullman, the co-founder and managing director of the Emerset Consulting Group, which helps companies negotiate software licensing deals, echoed Miller.
"No, this isn't a surprise. Microsoft has the same rules, although they're named differently, for an Office OEM license," said Ullman in a Wednesday interview, referring to copies of Office that are factory-installed on new PCs. "If Office is pre-installed on a device, [its license] is not sufficient for use in a business."
Microsoft has been making what Ullman called a "very subtle but very meaningful shift" in their licensing policies, edging away from the desktop PC as the center around which licenses revolve, and toward a more inclusive definition that stresses "devices" instead.
"Every device, whether it's a mobile [phone], tablet, desktop, notebook, are now required to be counted in the overall volume licenses [that a company pays for]," said Ullman. That's been driven by, among other factors, the "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) movement to incorporate employee-owned hardware into businesses, as well as the growth in smartphones and tablets, and a corresponding slump in traditional PC sales.
The requirement to own or pay for an additional, enterprise-quality Office 2013 license to use Office 2013 RT at work is "just more of the same," said Ullman.
"Microsoft is not going to compromise their volume licensing revenue," said Ullman, referring to the license linking demand. "They will protect that with whatever means are available."