University edition of Office 365 to be offered via subscription only

For $79.99, students and staffers get a 4-year license to use Office 365 University; buying a perpetual license will not be an option

Microsoft has announced a version of its new Office suite for university students, and one of the most interesting aspects is that it will be sold only through a subscription license.

In other words, it won't be possible to buy Office 365 University by paying a flat, one-time fee for a perpetual license.

Instead, Office 365 University, scheduled for release in the first quarter, will be available for US$79.99 for a four-year subscription, and will give users the right to install the software to up to two Windows or MacOS computers. Whether they buy it in a store or online, users in the U.S. will download the product from Microsoft data centers and receive rolling, automatic software updates in the same manner.

The release underscores Microsoft's belief that the subscription model represents the future not only for businesses but also for its consumer products. While Microsoft has a longer track record of using this model in the enterprise, it is now starting to push it among consumers.

It remains to be seen whether consumers -- in this case, university students, faculty and staff -- will embrace this model, in which users pay for the right to use the software for a specific time period, usually a year, with the option to renew the license subsequently.

When it announced the new Office in July, Microsoft said that in addition to selling the suite via an upfront, perpetual license -- the product branded Office 2013 -- it would also let people buy the suite as a subscription service, and gave this option the Office 365 brand.

When asked why buyers of Office 365 University are only getting the subscription option, a spokeswoman for Microsoft said via email that students -- the target audience -- are younger and thus more familiar with that model.

Office 365 University will include the new versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.

By comparison, Office University 2010 comes with the current versions of those applications and costs $99.99 for a perpetual license.

Like the other versions of Office that have been announced, including Office 365 Home Premium and Office 365 Small Business Premium, Office 365 University is tightly integrated with Microsoft's SkyDrive storage service. A default setting to save files to SkyDrive is intended to make it easy for users to store documents online and then access them from other computers. The license includes 27GB of SkyDrive storage, and 60 Skype minutes per month.

Office 365 University can save settings and preferences to the cloud and synchronize them across a user's different computers. A feature called Office on Demand will let users stream a full version of Office to PCs they don't own for use during one-time sessions.

Under an offer launched Friday, students who buy Office University 2010 or Office University for Mac 2011 will get Office 365 University free when it becomes available.

Office 365 University is not to be confused with Office 365 for Education, a suite of cloud-hosted collaboration server software that includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Web Apps. It is hosted by Microsoft and sold to educational institutions, which then make it available to their users.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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