Updated

Office 365's new device management tool is made for IT, but consumers would like it too

Microsoft says it now provides automatic license management for families, with businesses to receive it in a month or two.

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Correction: Microsoft representatives told PCWorld that the company began providing the automatic sign-out feature to consumers in May, meaning that consumer Office 365 users already have the same feature businesses will. The previous version of the story also incorrectly stated that number of available of licenses in an Office 365 Home subscription: six, not five as previously stated. 

Microsoft plans to smooth out the Office 365 activation process, removing the need to manage which devices are actively subscribed to Office apps. It’s a feature that Microsoft has begun quietly providing to consumers, and that businesses will benefit from as well. 

In a blog post, Microsoft said the device limit for Office 365 subscription remains the same: for Office 365 Home, up to six people can each put Office on up to five PCs and five tablets, plus mobile devices. (For a Office 365 Personal subscription, it's just a single device.)

For those who own or share a large number of Office devices, though—at the moment, just IT departments—the licensing changes will ease one specific burden. If you exceed your limit of subscribed Office devices, you won’t be asked to un-subscribe one of these devices manually. Office will simply choose which device hasn’t signed in to Office for the greatest amount of time, and sign out that device. A Microsoft representative said that this feature was turned on for consumer accounts in May, and will be applied to business accounts in August or September.

If you’ve ever managed an Office subscription, you may have experienced this: You exceed your available device limit, and Office makes you choose which device to unsubscribe. Unfortunately, Windows defaults to the random device names that PC OEMs attach to devices, mumbo-jumbo like “TABLET-93NRTY5.” That doesn’t necessarily help you determine whether that’s the dusty old tablet on the bookshelf, or the new one you purchased for school. Automatically unsubscribing the most inactive machine would solve that problem.

In fact, you could make the argument that a rolling pool of licenses will actually add available licenses to a family or workgroup. Let’s say that a family of four has purchased an Office 365 subscription to run on their individual PCs, plus a shared family desktop. That’s five. If the family were to add another desktop, they’d have to manually detach one PC from the Office subscription. But under Microsoft’s new licensing changes, each of the four family members could use any available PC. As long as only four licenses were in active use, the subscription will float back and forth among the available PCs.

Now, however, users will be able to install Office on as many PCs as they'd like, and Microsoft itself will manage the available installations.

  
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