Office for iPadIt seems that everyone in cyberspace is talking about the new “Office for iPad” that was released on March 27. Over the weekend, Office hit the top of the charts as people downloaded the free app.

Now it is possible for people to download files from the cloud, make revisions at the local coffee shop, upload the changes back to the cloud, create beautiful Word docs, crunch sales numbers on intricate Excel spreadsheets, and deliver stunning PowerPoint presentations at the client’s site…all from a trusty iPad.

So now that your employees are going to start using Office on their iPads, your business will reap the benefits, and we are all one step closer to a utopian society. What could go wrong?

Proceed with caution, my friend, for all is not as it should be in the murky waters of Microsoft licensing, and your business could get burned as a result.

The Basics

First, let’s help set the record straight: “Office for iPad” was not really released last week. It was actually just three new apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) so everyone should take a deep breath and calm down a little. Outlook Web Access, OneNote, and Lync for iPad have been out for a while already, and you still can’t get Publisher or Access. So, as Ed Bott says in a recent blog post: “Technically, there’s no such thing as Office for iPad. Each of the apps is a separate download from the App Store.”

Second, the free app is most likely not going to change your life. It is basically a “read only” version of the product. To unlock the app and get the full feature set, you will need to purchase an Office 365 subscription or already have one in place through your employer, school, or personal account. Mary Jo Foley posted an extremely helpful chart which compares the free version with the Office 365 version of the product. For example, unless you get the subscription, you can’t create new files, edit files, or save changes to the cloud.

And if you do get an Office 365 subscription, you need to make sure you get the right one. Not all of the Office 365 plans include the right to unlock the full features of the iPad apps. Check out the comparison charts of the Office 365 plans for business, education, government, or non-profit, and look for a version that includes mobile apps. (See below for a full list of these plans that include mobile apps.) The Office 365 Home Premium version also includes the right to unlock the iPad apps.

Business Use Rights?

The big question for business owners is: Can my employees use their new Office for iPad apps for business use or will I be out of compliance with Microsoft?

This is the area where you need to be tread carefully. Ed Bott wrote an informative post on this very topic that I recommend. The crux of the issue is that the consumer versions of Office 365 (i.e., the Home and University versions) do not allow you to use the product to create or edit files that are related to your business. In other words, you can only use the consumer version of the product for your personal use. Bott points out that the terms of use for Office 365 consumer subscriptions has this pesky caveat:

The service/software may not be used for commercial, non-profit, or revenue-generating activities.

So, you need to be careful. If your employees download the free version and that’s it, then it is not a problem for them to use the app for business purposes. There is nothing in the Application License Agreement that prohibits business use.

But if your employees download the Office for iPad apps and they sign up for an Office 365 subscription, then they inherit the use rights of that particular subscription. Those use rights probably will not allow them to use their iPad app to work on company files. And if you are audited by Microsoft, you could get burned.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately the only answer currently available is to either purchase a business plan for Office 365 that includes mobile apps (as explained above) or tell your employees not to modify company files on their iPads.

The current business, government, education, and nonprofit plans that include mobile apps are the following:

  • Office 365 Small Business Premium: $12.50 per user per month

  • Office 365 Midsize Business: $15.00 per user per month

  • Office 365 Enterprise E3: $20.00 per user per month

  • Office 365 Enterprise E4: $22.00 per user per month

  • Office 365 Education A3: $2.50 and $4.50 per user per month (for students and faculty/staff, respectively)

  • Office 365 Education A4: $3.00 and $6.00 per user per month (for students and faculty/staff, respectively)

  • Office 365 (Plan E3) for Government: $17.00 per user per month

  • Office 365 Enterprise E3 for Nonprofits: $4.50 per user per month

So, if you are a business owner who wants to enable your employees to use the Office for iPad apps for business use, you will need to purchase them a subscription to either the Small Business, Midsize Business, E3, or E4 version of Office 365. The bad news is that this will be an extra expense. But, the good news is that you will get all the other benefits of Office 365 and you can forget about that company-wide upgrade to Office 2013 you had planned for later this year.

Maybe we are one step closer to that utopian society. Then again, maybe this is what Microsoft had planned all along to get your business hooked on Office 365. I’ll let you be the judge.

If you are interested in an Office 365 subscription, Mirazon can help. As an official Microsoft Online Services Partner, we can answer questions about Office 365, provide quotes for Office 365 subscriptions, and help guide you through the setup process.

Contact us at to learn more about Office 365 and Office for iPad.