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Microsoft shortchanges Office for Mac customers on support

Microsoft shortchanges Office for Mac customers on support

Preserves the policy that gives Mac users five years of support, not the 10 awarded to Windows customers

Although Microsoft crafted Office 2016 for Mac to be much more like its bigger sibling on Windows, one thing has not changed: Mac Office 2016 users continue to get the short end of the support stick.

Microsoft will support all Windows versions of Office 2016, even those that explicitly target consumers, for 10 years, or twice as long as it will Office 2016 for Mac. Office Home & Student 2016, the entry-level Windows stand-alone edition -- dubbed a "one-time" license by Microsoft -- will be supported with security patches until Oct. 14, 2025, more than a decade hence.

But the same-named edition for OS X -- which boasts an identical application line-up of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word as the Windows' version -- exits support in half that time, on Oct. 13, 2020.

This support-glass-half-empty trait goes back years. Microsoft has long considered all editions of Office for Windows as business products, no matter that some -- like Home & Student -- cannot be used for commercial purposes. At the same time, it categorizes all editions of Office on OS X as consumer products.

The difference means a shorter support span for Office on Mac.

"Microsoft will offer a minimum of 10 years of support for Business, Developer and Desktop Operating System (consumer or business) Software Products," the company states on its support lifecycle FAQ.

Meanwhile, consumer software gets shorter shrift. "Microsoft will offer Mainstream Support for either a minimum of 5 years from the date of a product's general availability, or for 2 years after the successor product (N+1) is released, whichever is longer," the same FAQ reads. "Extended Support is not offered for Consumer software and Multimedia products with the exception of Windows Desktop Operating system."

Microsoft breaks its usual decade of support into two five-year parts: Mainstream and Extended. The former includes not only security patches, but also feature changes and non-security bug fixes. Meanwhile, Extended delivers security updates only. Consumer-grade software receives Mainstream support only.

At times, as the FAQ indicated, Microsoft has been flexible about Office for Mac support. In 2009, the company extended support for Office 2004 for Mac by 27 months to give users additional time to upgrade to Office 2011; it did the same this summer by adding 21 months to Office 2011's support, again to give customers the promised "2 years after the successor product is released."

In the first instance, Microsoft made clear the support postponement was not a change in policy. "This extension does not change the five-year support policy for other Office for Mac products, including future versions," a Microsoft product manager said at the time.

Although Microsoft does not make an enterprise-class Office suite for Mac, the more expensive Office Home & Business 2016 for the Mac is aimed at office workers, as it includes the Outlook email client, a staple in business. The support shortfall is most glaring for that $230 SKU (stock-keeping unit).

And Microsoft's push on Office 365, which touts not only rights to run Office 2016 on Windows but also on Apple's OS X, makes the policy nonsensical: Office 365 has been widely adopted by corporations, which have increasingly moved to support Macs, whether company-issued or worker-owned.

Office 365 subscribers, of course, may not be affected by the support shortage, as long as they continue to maintain the subscription, because Microsoft will presumably refresh the Mac suite for those customers.

Yet with the emphasis on Office 365 as the delivery vehicle for Office, there's no guarantee that Microsoft will continue to sell one-time, perpetual SKUs. Microsoft told customers months ago that it would do so for Office 2016, but not surprisingly, has made no follow-up pledge for the version after that. If it does decide to continue the practice, users should not expect an announcement for two years or more.

Thus Office 2016 could be the final non-Office 365 edition of the 25-year-old bundle.

If so, it's unreasonable to expect that Microsoft will provide endless support for Office 2016 for Mac, even though the line "2 years after the successor product is released" may hint at such. Instead, Microsoft will just rewrite the rules, as it's recently done with other products, notably older versions of Internet Explorer.

That will likely leave one-time Mac SKUs, like Home & Student and Home & Business, sans support.

In five years, not 10.

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