Save Money on Microsoft Office 2010 by Upgrading to 2007 First

Thanks to Microsoft's Software Assurance program, many companies with bulk licenses for Office won't need to pay to upgrade to Office 2010. However, smaller businesses (as well as home users) who buy their software box by box are facing a significant sticker price to embrace the new and improved Office. But thanks to something of a loophole in Microsoft's licensing rules, organizations with copies of Office 2003 may be able to save a lot of money by first upgrading to Office 2007 and then moving to 2010.

First, it helps to understand the differences between the licensing rules for Office 2007 and Office 2010. For Office 2007, Microsoft offers upgrade pricing, which means you can get a discount upgrading to certain versions of the suite if you're running certain versions of Office 2003. With Office 2010, however, Microsoft has abandoned upgrade pricing. When you buy Office 2010 for a particular PC, it doesn't matter at all whether that PC already has a validated copy of Office 2007 or 2003 or 3.1. There's no discount.

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Top 10 Office 2010 features for business | Microsoft has also quietly rolled out a free online suite of Office apps to rival Google Apps. ]

Enter the Microsoft Office 2010 Technology Guarantee. Under its terms, if you want to upgrade from Office 2003 to Office 2010, you have to buy, install, and validate a copy of Office 2007. Then if you follow the rules, you get a free upgrade from Office 2007 to Office 2010. Thus, you can effectively move from 2003 to 2010 for the discounted cost of moving from 2003 to 2007.

Going from 2003 to 2007 to 2010 may sound like a hassle, what with the process of installing 2007 and then 2010, but in some cases you can save $200 or more per installation. If your small office has five boxes of Office 2003, you can save $1,000 when you upgrade to Office 2010 Pro -- but you have to act now, before retailers sell out of Office 2007.

If you're already confused, it gets more complicated: Office 2010 has different licensing terms for different versions, and you may want to choose a version specifically because it has terms you need. So the cheapest way to buy a particular version of Office 2010 may involve buying a different version of Office 2007, then using the free Technology Guarantee upgrade. Got your scorecard handy?

Office 2010 comes in eight versions, but if you don't want to buy a volume license, and you don't qualify for the Academic or Military Appreciation Version, you really have two options (legally) for commercial use: Home & Business 2010 (which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook); and Pro 2010 (adds Access and Publisher). Each version has licensing quirks that you should consider when trying to figure out the best price for upgrading from Office 2003.

If you buy Home and Business 2010 in a box, you get one license, plus you "may install another copy of the software on a portable device for use by the single primary user of the licensed device," according to Microsoft. If you buy a key card, you only get one license.

The cheapest way to get two licenses -- assuming you meet the "portable device" restriction and already have Office 2003 -- involves buying the upgrade version of Office 2007 Standard. I found it at Amazon for $205, which saves you $75 off the $280 going rate for H&B 2010. (Make sure you follow Amazon's instructions closely.) Frys has a similar offer for $210, but it's only available in some Frys shops -- not online.

If you want only one license for H&B 2010, you might as well get the H&B 2010 Key Card for about $200.

If you buy Office Professional 2010 in a box, you get one license, plus one for "a portable device," just like Home and Office. If you buy a key card, you get only one license.

Here, the cheapest route to Office 2010 depends on which version of Office 2003 you already own. If you have Office 2003 Ultimate, you can upgrade to Office 2007 Ultimate with a $215 package from Amazon, and from there to Office Pro 2010 for free.

Otherwise, get the Office 2007 Small Business Edition retail upgrade package from Frys for $280 -- quite a savings from the $499 Professional 2010, and even a small savings from the one-license Key Card at $349.

Home users may consider buying Office Home and Student 2010, which comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The package includes three licenses for three PCs in a single household. (You're explicitly prohibited from using H&S "in any commercial, nonprofit or revenue-generating activities, or by any government organization.") If you buy a key card for H&S 2010, instead of the box, you get only one license.

Right now the going rate on the three-license version of H&S 2010 is about $150. If you have Office 2003, you can save $50 by ordering Office Home & Student 2007 from Amazon for $99, then taking advantage of the Technology Guarantee for a free upgrade to H&S 2010.

If you want only one license for H&S 2010, you're better off buying the H&S 2010 Key Card, which lists at around $119. Yes, you can get the Amazon H&S 2007 version and upgrade, but you'll save only $20.

It's entirely possible that Microsoft will offer some sort of special deal after the shrink-wrapped copies of Office 2010 hit store shelves. Frankly, I don't see any show-stopper new features; if sales stumble, there's no telling what Microsoft might do to make the product more appealing. But as things stand, in many cases, you're better off upgrading to Office 2007, if only for a day.

Found a better price? Tell me about it in the comments below.

This article, "Save money on Office 2010 by first upgrading to 2007," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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