Many many times we encounter business owners who work within the assumption that they are doing the right thing when using Microsoft Office, licensed through their Office 365 subscription, while they are actually breaking the law and are not properly licensed.

Occasionally, someone truly wants to skirt costs, but normally business consumers just don’t know the licensing rules. This is complicated by the fact that licensing has changed dramatically over the past five years or so.

We break it down for you, so that you can clearly determine how you and your business should be using Microsoft Office.

A quick summary of how Microsoft Office has morphed recently:

On June 28, 2011, Microsoft launched Office 365 as a successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), and it was originally aimed at corporate users. With the release of Microsoft Office 2013, Microsoft expanded Office 365 to include new plans aimed at different types of businesses, along with new plans aimed at general consumers—including benefits tailored towards Microsoft consumer services. By Q4 of 2017, revenue from MS Office, purchased through Office 365, overtook conventional license sales of MS Office for the first time.

Oh, The Versions of MS Office…

What can be a bit confusing is that, as a consumer, business, or individual, we can purchase “Office 365” several ways:

  • For email service only (with online MS Office software)
  • For email service and MS Office software for download and use on your PCs (with online MS Office software)
  • For MS Office software for download and use on your PCs only

Today, we are talking about the Office Suite of software, so we are not focusing on the email-only subscription to Office 365.

Then, there are tiers of Office 365 which include MS Office software for download and use on your PC (Office Online, Personal and Enterprise E1 are email and MS Office for online use only). Versioning is as follows:

  1. Personal
  2. Home
  3. Business
  4. Business Premium
  5. ProPlus (Software features, but no email service)
  6. Enterprise E3
  7. Enterprise E5
  8. Exchange Online Plan 1

All of these subscriptions include MS Office for download and installation onto Windows or Mac computers (PCs, or in some cases, terminal server, a multi-user environment on a server operating system)

Am I Breaking the Licensing Law?

Given these seven Office 365 plans that provide me with MS Office, how many times can I install MS Office and onto which computers? This is the ultimate question that will address the licensing question.

Let’s narrow down the list for individuals or businesses with under 300 people (licensees) to use these versions for the appropriate use.

First, let’s rule out personal-use versions. These cannot be purchased and used for your business:

  • Office 365 Home
  • Office 365 Personal
  • Office 365 University
  • Office 365 Home Military Appreciation Edition
  • Office 365 Home Trial

For all of the above, you can install on ALL your devices but be signed in and using up to five (5) at the same time. As the account owner, you can share with others. This is done from the portal when you are logged in.

For more details, you can reference this article.

The ultimate question for my business: On how many of my PCs can I install my MS Office software?

So, for your business, here is what you can choose from:

  • Office 365 Business
  • Office 365 Business Premium
  • Office 365 ProPlus
  • Office 365 E3
  • Office 365 E5

Office 365 Business, Business Premium and ProPlus subscribers can install Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs, 5 tablets, and 5 smartphones. You can count hybrid Windows devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, as either a PC or a tablet.

But this does not mean you can use the MS Office software for 5 people!  This is for one “user” or person. That’s it.

Why? Well, Microsoft wants to  limit your ability to use MS Office on all your devices (computers, smartphones and tablets). So, you can install it multiple times, and on your assets at work. Not other employee assets.

Q: I have 35 people in my company who use Microsoft Office. How many licenses of Office 365 ProPlus must I buy? 7 or 35?

A: The answer is 35. Because you are 35 different people. You could install the Office suite of software on up to 175 devices (5 devices for each of the 35 people), but first you have to license each of the 35 of your staff.


So be careful when purchasing MS Office through an Office 365 subscription,

…1st determine if it is for your personal and family use or business use.

…2nd make sure you know how many different people are legally allowed to use your licensed copy.