How long can any specific copy of Microsoft Office be usefully retained? The answer to this question might not be as straightforward as you think.

Recently Microsoft made an announcement concerning the future of Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is still the de facto productivity suite for business, so any changes Microsoft makes have the potential to affect millions of business users. Almost certainly, your own business relies on MS Office software.

In the past, buying software was as simple as purchasing a boxed product. After that you owned the software and could install and use it as long as computers still have CD-ROM drives. However, selling a single copy of a piece of software is not ideal for a software company reliant on constant sales. Thus we have seen many companies shifting to a subscription model for their software. Adobe’s Creative Cloud, MYOB accounting software and Symantec Internet Security are just a few examples of products offered either optionally or only in an online subscription model. Microsoft’s push to move customers onto their cloud offering Office 365, and Office 365 software subscription, follows in the same vein. According to Gartner, “By 2020, more than 80 percent of software vendors will change their business model from traditional license and maintenance to subscription.”

Likely your business still has perpetual license Office software in use, whether that’s Office 2007 or 2016. In many cases, businesses acquire their copies of Office along with the workstations in an OEM (“Original Equiment Manufacturer”) model. Under this model, the software is installed on the computer for the life of the hardware but not transferable to another computer. A computer’s normal hardware lifetime is between four and five years. By the end of a computer’s lifetime, any software it comes with is likely to be towards the end of its life. With a new version of Office available every few years, by the time any computer was replaced there would be a new version of Microsoft Windows and a new version of Office available.

At the same time, Microsoft has changed not just the way it provides Windows and Office, but also how it releases new versions. Microsoft calls Windows 10 “the last version of Windows”, because instead of planning a “Windows 11”, it intends to roll out biannual feature updates to the existing software. The latest version of Microsoft Office, “Office 2016”, is being treated in a similar manner. Whilst Microsoft has said that it will release at least one more version of boxed-product perpetual license Microsoft Office, those on Office 365 subscriptions will always have the latest version.

Is my four-year-old computer dead?

However, it must be understood that many businesses stretch the working life of their computer hardware out by reassigning computers between users depending on their computing needs. The truth is that a four-year-old computer is more than capable of running basic business software, such as Microsoft Office, for many years beyond its recommended lifetime. Accordingly, many small-to-medium businesses have a mixture of new and older computers running a variety of software versions.

If your business is still running Windows 7 computers with Office 2010, these will still be fully functional for now. Microsoft’s recent announcement, however, puts a hard end date on such a machine. After October 13 2020, any version of Microsoft Office that is out of “mainstream support” will no longer be able to connect to Microsoft’s cloud products. These include Sharepoint, OneDrive (online storage), Lync / Skype for Business (teleconferencing and online meetings) and, crucially, Office 365 for email. So what does “Mainstream Support” mean? And what if you’re not using Office 365?

Mainstream Support is offered by Microsoft for the first five years of release of any new version of software. As the current Office 2016 software reaches five years on the same date – 13 October 2020 – no current version of Microsoft Office will be in mainstream support, so all current stand-alone versions of Office will not be able to connect to an Office 365 email mailbox. In other words, by October 2020, if you’re using Office 365 email or other Microsoft cloud services, then every computer in your business will need either a new version of Office, or a subscription through Office 365 Premium.

There has always been a three-version support window for Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. If your business runs Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 for its email, then the earliest version of Outlook that can connect to it is Outlook 2007. Exchange Online, used by Office 365, currently supports Outlook 2007 with reduced functionality, but even this is temporary, as from October 2017 Office 365 will only be compatible with Outlook 2010 and above. Microsoft’s announced change tightens the restrictions further.

So can you retain a copy of Microsoft Exchange Server onsite instead of moving to Office 365? Unfortunately, Exchange Server also has a finite lifespan. See the following table for a simplified summary of Exchange Server versions (including their most recent patch, service pack or Cumulative Update), what versions of Outlook they will support, and how long they will continue receiving support from Microsoft.

Exchange Server versionReleasedLatest version of Outlook supportedMainstream support endsExtended support endsCurrent status
Exchange Server 2003October 2003Outlook 98
(Outlook 2010 is the latest version of Outlook that can connect)
April 14, 2009April 8, 2014Currently out of support
Exchange Server 2007March 8, 2007Outlook 2002April 10, 2012April 11, 2017Currently out of support
Exchange Server 2010November 9, 2009Outlook 2003 SP2January 13, 2015January 14, 2020Extended support
Exchange Server 2013December 3, 2012Outlook 2007 SP3April 10, 2018April 11, 2023Mainstream support
Exchange Server 2016October 1, 2015Outlook 2010 SP2October 13, 2020October 14, 2025Mainstream support
Exchange Online (Office 365)October 1, 2015Outlook 2007 (until October 2017)
Outlook 2010 (after October 2017)

What does all this mean?

The take-home message is that for any computers your business purchases between now and October 2020, you should expect to require either a Microsoft Office subscription through Office 365, volume licensing or other means, or an upgrade of Microsoft Office to make it compatible with your Office 365 email. Contact Adams Consulting Group for an obligation-free discussion of your email service and Microsoft Office versions.