Microsoft Office, namely Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, are three of the most commonly used programs by students in higher education. As the newest version of Office 2013 becomes more common across academic environments, students need a keen awareness about how Microsoft licenses products. Failure to understand key points can lead to legal consequences due to copyright violations. The term Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware, is an appropriate recommendation for students.
When purchasing Office, one is actually not purchasing a product, but is purchasing a license to use a product. Hence, a license is legal permission to use the software according to the end user license agreement (EULA). This is all of the legal-ease that is often quickly agreed to by the user prior to installation. Do not agree to the EULA without a clear understanding of what is being agreed to.
The biggest issue with Office 2013 is that is permits a single copy on a single machine forever. That single copy is forever tied to that machine. That means if one decides to purchase a new computer, the existing copy of Office 2013 is not permitted to be installed to the new machine under the EULA. One cannot delete Office from the old machine and use it on the new one. A new copy of Office must be purchased to go with the new machine. There is a common misconception that once a user license is purchased, the software can be copied to another machine. This is untrue, and violates the EULA, which in turn is a copyright violation. The only exception to this copy rule is if one purchases a new computer and new Office license, and the computer fails during the manufacturer warranty period. If the computer is replaced, the existing Office 2013 program may be installed on the new machine. Otherwise, a new machine requires a new copy of Office.
There is an alternative for students, but it comes with compromise. There is an internet/cloud based version of Office named Office 365. This is pretty inexpensive at $79.99 for a four year license agreement, and can be used on multiple devices. The catch is that Office 365 is web based; one needs a persistent broadband internet connection to access the software. It might be troublesome for some students to always have a high speed internet connection while using Office applications. This requires careful consideration and planning to determine if Office 365 is a viable alternative.
If one is likely to keep the same machine entering college for a four year period, this might be a moot issue. However, with the pace of technology today, it is fairly common for students to upgrade, and to use multiple devices. This could result in duplicate costs for each device if Office is needed on each machine.
Of course, there are alternatives to Office. The two main alternatives are Google Drive and LibreOffice (formerly Open Office). A very important factor is that both are free. Each is mostly compatible with Office, meaning that documents can be saved and viewed in MS format, for example, .doc for Word documents. However, some of the features do not always translate cleanly, so this could sometimes be an issue for students in learning environments that require perfectly formatted documents.
The overall functionality is more rudimentary within Google Office and LibreOffice; however, for most students, the functionality is more than adequate. Google Drive is web based, analogous to Office 365, while LibreOffice can be downloaded to a local machine. Students can try each alternative at no cost, so some experimentation might be a worthwhile investment.
It is likely that many students will continue to prefer Office, if nothing else because it is the standard across many academic institutions. Caveat Emptor should be at the forefront of any purchase.