The belated launch of Office 365 via Open in Australia has brought a great deal of attention to Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions, and how they compare to Office 2013 SKUs acquired via other license types. What makes things more complicated this time round is that depending on who you subscribe through – a syndication partner, Microsoft’s portal or through Open, you can end up with different usage rights, and you also end up with different levels of functionality depending on whether you are buying through the P plan option or the M or E plans. Confused? Don’t worry, it will get clearer as we go through it.

First of all let’s do a comparison of Office 365 ProPlus against Office 2013 Professional Plus.

Office 365 ProPlus Office 2013 Professional Plus
Streaming installation via Click To Run Classic installation via MSI
Slipstreamed Servicing Layered Servicing
User based licensing Volume licensing
Complete suite SKU installation Selective application installation
Cannot be used on RDS Can be used on RDS


Let’s take a look at each of these briefly.

Click To Run the application to start streaming down to the user so that the applications become available prior to the complete installation taking place. This means that you don’t need to be very far into the install before you could, for example launch Word, which will then prioritise the streaming of the Word components to help ensure that the user has a good experience. Compared to the MSI based approach, in which everything needs to be downloaded and installed before you can run anything. There are other benefits, but I will revisit those in another post.

Slipstreamed servicing means that you are only ever one update away having the latest updates installed, pulling them either from your own internal distribution source or directly from the Office 365 servers. There are merits to both approaches, but the internal distribution option does end up giving a bit more control to those who aren’t quite ready to embrace Microsoft’s evergreen Office strategy.

User based licensing is one of the major changes that gets people’s attention, with the ability to install Office 365 Pro Plus on 5 PCs or Macs as well as on 5 mobile devices. However, it is only licensed for that user, not for others who may be using that device. The experience is customised for the licensed user, including things such as a cloud based recently used document list for example. In environments where multiple people use the same PC, traditional per device installs of Office 2013 may be more appropriate, but not necessarily.

When you are installing Office 365 ProPlus you don’t have any granularity about what gets installed, it’s the entire suite. This means that there are potentially going to be some applications installed that you don’t want users to be accessing. You can control that through Access Control Lists, Software Restriction Policies or AppLocker if you really want to limit access.

The Remote Desktop Services story is perhaps the one that causes the most confusion, so it gets its own dedicated section.

Remote Desktop Services

To start with, regardless of how you license Office 365 ProPlus you can’t use it in a Remote Desktop environment, at least from a technical perspective. However, if you have licensed it through one of Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Programs, you may have the rights to use, provided you have a licensed VL edition of Office 2013 Professional Plus to perform the installation with. Wait… what? You may have? Another table should make this a bit clearer.

RDS Usage Rights Granted

Syndication Microsoft Volume Licensing
Small Business No No N/A
Midsize Business No No Yes
Enterprise No No Yes


Why don’t all customers have the ability to take advantage of these rights? Because they fall under a different type of usage rights agreement. This could be a showstopper for some customers who weren’t planning on purchasing via Open, and there is no indication that this is going to change any time soon. For more details on this, take a look at this Microsoft blog post which includes much more information.

What Happens If You Try To Use Office 365 ProPlus on RDS?

There’s an easy way to show this, it’s as simple as, well, trying to use Office 365 ProPlus on RDS.

This download.xml file is used with the Office setup tool from the Microsoft download center to download an offline copy of the Office 365 ProPlus source files so that they are available on the local network for multiple installations without burdening the internet connection.

Once the package is downloaded, I can use the setup tool again but this time to perform the installation with the above install.xml file.

Installation completes as per usual, so there isn’t a block on the installation.

We can see that everything is installed, let’s try to run Word.

And this, my friends, is the end result, and the proof that you can’t run Office 365 under RDS. So it’s not just a licensing restriction, there’s definitely a technical restriction in place as well.

What About Office 365 Subscriptions For Project And Visio?

These have the same restrictions, an installation of Project Pro via the method shown above provides the following error.


When I get a chance I’ll test Visio, but I think we can already see what the pattern is.