FAQ: Office 2019 is coming; here's what you need to know

Microsoft has provided few details about the next non-subscription version of Office, coming next year. We've teased out some answers to pressing questions about the suite.

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Microsoft last year announced that there will be a successor to Office 2016, the non-subscription version of the application suite, and that the upgrade would ship in about a year.

The bundle, named "Office 2019," will be geared to customers, primarily corporate customers, "who aren't yet ready for the cloud," according to Microsoft.

But other than that description, Microsoft has been vague about the prospect of Office 2019 with a "perpetual" license, one that lets the customer run the suite as long as desired without further payments. So, we collected some of the pressing questions business may have about the suite.

What is a 'perpetual' Office?

Microsoft categorizes software by how it is paid for, discriminating between a license that was bought outright from one that is essentially "rented" because it's paid for over time, like a subscription.

Most of the time Microsoft uses the term "one-time purchase" to label a software license that is paid for with a "single, up-front cost to get Office applications for one computer." The purchase gives the buyer the right to use Office in perpetuity. In other words, the license has no expiration date, and users may run the suite as long as they want.

When will Microsoft release Office 2019?

The company pegged the launch of the suite during the second half of the year. "This release, scheduled for the second half of 2018, will include perpetual versions of the Office apps ... and servers," wrote Jared Spataro, general manager for Office, in a September post to a company blog.

Spataro called out "Office 2019" at the time as the nameplate for the application collection.

When will Microsoft release Office 2019?

No date yet, but there are hints enough to take a guess.

In late September 2015, Microsoft offered the Windows edition of Office 2016 to Office 365 customers first, then followed with retail versions. Office 2019 will likely appear around the same time of the year, in that same order.

Here's why.

Microsoft now issues two Office 365 ProPlus feature upgrades — ProPlus is the standard suite that provides rights to the locally installed applications, including Excel, Outlook and Word, for 365 subscribers — annually. Those feature upgrades begin reaching customers in September and March of each year. (Last Sept. 12, Microsoft issued a feature upgrade, designated 1708, to Office 365 ProPlus.)

Because the perpetual licensed version of Office 2019 will be built from code already released as Office 365 ProPlus — and because a beta of Office 2019 will debut in mid-2018 — it's more likely that Microsoft will use the March feature upgrade for Office 365 ProPlus subscribers than the September 2018 feature upgrade as the basis for Office 2019.

The three months between the March 2018 appearance of the ProPlus feature upgrade and the July 2018 launch of the Office 2019 preview will give Microsoft time to digest feedback from customers and fix any bugs that surface. The change from Office 2016's beta release date (May 2015) to Office 2019's (mid-summer 2018) was probably necessary to accommodate the March feature upgrade timetable; Microsoft didn't adopt the Windows 10-esque feature release schedule for Office 365 until after the launch of Office 2016 in September 2015.

All Microsoft has to do to declare the applications delivered to ProPlus subscribers — Word, Outlook, and so on — as officially "Office 2019" versions is to rename them. It could do that on Sept. 11, 2018, the likely date it will release that year's second ProPlus feature upgrade.

What will be in Office 2019?

Microsoft's not saying.

The feature set may not be revealed until mid-2018, when Microsoft releases a preview of the suite. For his part, Spataro hinted at some of what will make it into Office 2019, calling out such features as Ink replay in Word and Morph in PowerPoint, which have been available to Office 365 subscribers for one and two years, respectively.

And that's important to remember.

There's little to no chance that Office 2019 will include any groundbreaking new features. Why? Because the perpetually-licensed version of the suite is built by taking the accumulated changes since the predecessor appeared — the changes issued to Office 365 subscribers over the past several years.

Microsoft will take the version of Office 2016 that Office 365 ProPlus users have in, say, the spring of 2018 — and that version of Office 2016 is different than the 2015 version of Office 2016 sold as a one-time purchase — freeze the code, and call it Office 2019.

In which forms and formats will Microsoft sell Office 2019?

Microsoft's not saying. One-time purchases of the current office range from Office Professional Plus 2016 (Windows) and Office Standard 2016 for Mac (macOS), the enterprise-grade SKUs available only via volume licensing, to retail packages such as Office Professional 2016 (Windows) and Office Home and Business 2016 for Mac (macOS).

It's certain that Microsoft will offer Office 2019 to commercial customers via volume licensing, but it may be questionable to assume that it will sell single-copy versions at retail.

Microsoft will, at some point, discontinue sales of Office perpetual licenses, analysts have agreed. (Microsoft has made no secret that it prefers subscriptions – Office 365 in this case – for the recurring revenue they generate.) Dumping single-copy one-time purchases would be the logical place to start reducing the perpetual option.

Spataro did not say so, but Office 2019 will come in versions for both Windows and macOS. There would be little reason to cull the latter, for instance, since Microsoft dominates that OS's productivity space, too.

Why is it important that Microsoft ship Office 2019 this year?

Another great question.

In 2017, Microsoft slashed the rights of users running non-subscription Office when it announced that perpetual-licensed versions of Office 2016 will be barred from connecting to Microsoft's cloud-based services, including hosted email (Exchange) and online storage (OneDrive for Business) after Oct. 13, 2020.

Under the new rules, owners of a perpetual license for Office 2016 can use those services only during the first half of their 10-year support lifecycle, the portion Microsoft dubs "mainstream." Office 2016's mainstream support ends Oct. 13, 2020.

By releasing Office 2019 this year, Microsoft will give enterprises a year or so to migrate from Office 2016 (or an earlier edition) before the cloud service cutoff.

Will Microsoft sell a one-time purchase version of Office after Office 2019?

We don't think so.

Why? Simple: Microsoft is slashing support for Office 2019 by 30%.

Rather than the usual decade of support – the first five in what Microsoft dubs "Mainstream," the second five as "Extended," which provides security-only updates – Office 2019 will get only seven years.

"Office 2019 will provide 5 years of mainstream support and approximately 2 years of extended support," said Spataro in the Feb. 1 announcement. "This is ... to align with the support period for Office 2016. Extended support will end 10/14/2025."

That's the same day Office 2016's support expires.

The simultaneous retirement of the two perpetually-licensed suites is the strongest signal yet that Microsoft plans to shut down the one-time purchase option after Office 2019. By shortening 2019's support lifespan – something Microsoft has <i>never</i> done to Office for Windows – it will be able to wash its hands of both suites at the same time, ending the decades-old purchasing option and making the subscription-based Office 365 the only way to license the applications.

The late-2025 deadline will let Microsoft sell Office 2019 for years – during the Mainstream stretch, most likely – while hedging about a successor throughout. But it can still give enterprise customers a multi-year heads-up that it's the last of its kind (and that those customers need to move to subscriptions).

Is it true that Office 2019 won't work on Windows 7? Or even Windows 8.1?

Yes, that's true. Or maybe, no, it's not.

Along with its announcement that Office 2019's support will run out after seven years, Microsoft also painted the system requirements with a broad brush. The requirements are substantially more restrictive than Office 2016's.

According to Spataro's Feb. 1 post, Office 2019 will be supported  only on Windows 10. No love for Windows 7 (which retires in January 2020, or a year-and-change after Office 2019's debut) or Windows 8.1 (January 2023, four years and more). Those two older OSes will have to be satisfied with Office 2016 (which, again, doesn't fall off support until October 2025).

Spataro did not offer an explanation for the support limitation. Previously, like when Microsoft said that Office 2016 could not be used to connect to the company's own cloud services after Oct. 13, 2020, it's rationalized the decision by claiming that tying new (Office 2019 in this case) technologies to old (Windows 7 or Windows 8.1) resulted in substandard security and unimpressive features.

From Microsoft's perspective, the same reasoning could be applied to this ruling. The cynical among us would instead see it as another push to move everyone onto Windows 10 ASAP by limiting the functionality of prior editions of Windows.

But although Microsoft was crystal clear that it would not support Office 2019 on Windows 7 or 8.1, there's no guarantee that the suite won't necessarily run on devices powered by those operating systems. For all we know, Office 2019 may work, perhaps not perfectly, on the older OSes. Even if that were the case, however, Microsoft can easily bar Office security updates from reaching Windows 7 or 8.1 PCs. Historically, it has done exactly that, such as when it blocked Windows 7 systems from receiving Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) security updates after January 2016.

Okay, so we'll just move our Windows 8.1 systems to Office 365 to get an upgraded Office. Right?

Uh, no.

When Microsoft means it won't support Office 2019, it really means it. Along with the no-Office-2019-support-on-Windows-8.1 rule, Microsoft also put the kibosh on Office 365 ProPlus for 8.1.

"Effective January 14, 2020, ProPlus will no longer be supported on ... [Windows 8.1 and older]," said Microsoft's Spataro. "This will ensure that both Office and Windows receive regular, coordinated updates to provide the most secure environment with the latest capabilities."

In other words, three years before Windows 8.1's official retirement date, Microsoft will limit Windows 8.1 to running the perpetual versions of Office 2016 or Office 2013. (The latter's support runs out in April 2023, three months after Windows 8.1's expires.)

Blocking updates to Office 365 ProPlus on Windows 8.1 likely didn't make Microsoft blink; the operating system accounts for such a small slice of the overall Windows pie. In January, analytics vendor Net Applications pegged Windows 8's and 8.1's combined user share as about 7.6% of all Windows editions.

And by the time January 2020 rolls around, Windows 8/8.1 should be under 5%, if the decline trend remains close to that of the last 12 months.

This story, "FAQ: Office 2019 is coming; here's what you need to know" was originally published by Computerworld.