Microsoft Announces Milestones for 'Perpetual' Office Products

Office 2021 for Windows, the traditional perpetual-license productivity suite for consumers and small businesses (commonly thought of as the retail "boxed" product), will reach general availability on Oct. 5, the same day as Windows 11, Microsoft said this week.

There's also Mac counterpart of Office 2021 is also coming, but Microsoft hasn't specified its launch date.

Microsoft also indicated that its long-term servicing channel (LTSC) version of Office, described as a "perpetual release," is now at the GA stage.

In April, Microsoft had released previews of both Office 2021 for Mac and Office LTSC. The GA stage, newly announced, signifies that Microsoft deems the products as being ready for use by organizations and individuals in production environments.

Five Years of Support
These releases are notable for having just five years of support, instead of the traditional 10 years. Microsoft also has claimed that Office 2021 and Office LTSC follow its Fixed Lifecycle Policy in terms of support, although it's a truncated version of that policy.

The Fixed Lifecycle Policy is mostly known for having 10 years of support, divided into "mainstream" and "extended" support phases, but these Office products will just have five years of mainstream support, with no extended support. Mainstream support is the phase when Microsoft's developers continue to issue product updates in response to specific customer issues.

Office LTSC, the 'Nonsubscription' Product
It's probably confusing that Microsoft considers its Office LTSC product to be a "perpetual-license" product.

Most of Microsoft's products with update "channels" are subscription-based, and if the subscription ends, then the software doesn't get future updates or security patches. In the case of regular Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions, if a subscription ends, then individuals or organizations just have read-only use rights for their Office files. They can't create new document files.

Office 2021 and Office 2021 for Mac (the "boxed" products) are truly perpetual-license products. Users buy it and they don't get new feature updates, but they can use the suites to create Office files in perpetuity.

Office LTSC seems like it's a subscription-based product, but it isn't. Office LTSC is a "nonsubscription"-based product, according to this ZDNet article explanation by veteran Microsoft writer Mary Jo Foley. Likely, that's correct, but Microsoft doesn't explain it as such, which is confusing.

The "perpetual" descriptor seems to mostly refer to the one-time purchasing of the Office productivity suite. Here's how "perpetual" was explained by a Microsoft spokesperson:

By "perpetual" we mean desktop-only apps, locally installed as a one-time purchase, while the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 subscriptions offer Office desktop suite of premium apps with AI features and cloud-based versions of Microsoft's next-generation communications and collaboration services -- including Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Office mobile, Office for the web.

Office LTSC is also just marketed toward organizational use. It's not to be used by consumers. Moreover, Office LTSC has limited connections to Microsoft's services and is intended for use only by organizations needing instances of Office that can't be frequently updated.

Here are the use cases for Office LTSC that were outlined in a February announcement by Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365:

  • Regulated devices that cannot accept feature updates for years at a time
  • Process control devices on the manufacturing floor that are not connected to the internet, and
  • Specialty systems that must stay locked in time and require a long-term servicing channel.

In contrast, Office products offered through Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions get "feature updates" (new product versions with new capabilities) twice per year.

How Long Can Office LTSC Be Used?
Office LTSC, as noted above, has just five years of product support, but does its "perpetual-license" status mean that organizations can continue to use it after five years, perhaps in perpetuity?

Not really, or, it depends. Here's how the spokesperson explained Office LTSC's product life:

It depends on what licensing model a commercial customer chooses: either a one-time purchase of a license only, in which case they can use it [Office LTSC] for the duration of the support (5 years), or they can also purchase Software Assurance, which will give them rights to upgrade to the next version, once it is available. For example, customers with Software Assurance who bought Office 2019 have a right to upgrade to Office LTSC starting today.

It should be noted that Software Assurance is an extra cost for organizations that gets renewed on an annual basis. It gives organizations some educational perks, plus the ability to upgrade within the time period specified in the Software Assurance contract.

Unlike the Office suite that's available through Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions, users of Office LTSC can create Office files after the five-year support period ends, but the product won't be patched. Here's how the spokesperson expressed that notion about Office LTSC use rights:

Technically yes, files can continue to be accessed, edited and created [using Office LTSC]. After 5 years, this version will no longer be supported by Microsoft, meaning it will not receive security updates and bug fixes, but the files still exist and are accessible.

Office LTSC Click-to-Run Installation
Microsoft had indicated back in April that Office LTSC would only be deployable via Microsoft's Click-to-Run streaming technology, and that no MSI or MSIX installation files would be available. Office 2021 for Mac will use the Apple Package format for installs.

In terms of apps, Microsoft is planning to add a trial version of Microsoft Teams by default with Office LTSC and Office 2021 installations. Microsoft isn't installing the Skype for Business app by default for Office LTSC users, but it'll be available, Microsoft promised in April. Office 2021 for Mac users wanting the Skype for Business app will need to download and install it.

The Thursday announcement indicated that next Project and Visio apps also have reached the GA stage.

Price Increase
Spataro noted back in February that Microsoft intended to increase Office prices (specifically for "Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual apps") by 10 percent at the time of GA.