Can you only install Office twice?

Is it true that you can only install Office twice before buying another copy?

Microsoft’s Product Activation is the source of a lot of questions to Office Watch and clearly it’s not well understood. Microsoft has little interest in making the rules clearer, partly for their security reasons and partly because they know the ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ can lead to people buying extra copies of Office that they don’t really need.

A standard MS Office retail licence allows for TWO installed copies of Office at any one time – one on a desktop computer and another on a portable device for use by one person.  


There are different rules for corporate licences as well as the Office 2007 ‘Home and Student Edition’ and ‘Military Appreciation Edition’ that we’ve written about on the Office-Watch.com web site – What’s so special about the Home and Student edition and Military Appreciation Edition price cut.

Office ‘activation’ is the post-installation process where the software checks with Microsoft to make sure you’re allowed to use the unique Product Key you entered.  Activation matches the product key to the machine it’s installed upon and is usually done via the Internet but can also happen by phone.

That ‘two installations’ rule leads people to believe they can only install and activate Office twice – after that they have to buy another copy of Office.  Definitely NOT true.

Product Activation is a lot more flexible than a quick look at the rules might suggest.  Microsoft knows that people switch hardware and move their software for a variety of reasons.  A new computer might not work properly and, at worst, is entirely replaced. You might lose a computer and buy a replacement. These are all valid reasons to move your licensed copy of Office to a new computer.  If you upgrade the components on a computer, it might be sufficient to require re-activation even though you haven’t touched Office itself.

Install Office on a replacement computer and, when you are ready, do the product activation.  The worst that can happen is that you’re prompted to call Microsoft for confirmation.  We’ve done this many times and it’s never been a problem.  We explain the situation (upgrading computer etc) and an activation code is given in a few minutes.  Have a pen/paper ready or enter the activation code directly as it’s read to you.

We’ve heard of cases when activation is refused but usually that’s when the product code has been used many times over a relatively short period.  That can be people abusing their licence or perhaps the product key has been stolen and used by others without your knowledge. See our series “What happens if your Product Key is stolen?

The ‘two activations’ also depend somewhat on the time between activations.  If you try for a third or fourth activation soon after the first requests then you might be asked to explain.  However if the later activations are many months or years later they are more likely to be approved automatically.

The Product Key that comes with a copy of Office should be stored safely – without it you’ll have to buy another copy of Office. The CD/DVD is less important because you could borrow/copy a friend’s disk to reinstall using your unique Product Key.

It’s also a good idea to keep a record of your installation/activation of Microsoft Office. If you need to call Microsoft for activation it can be useful, in case of difficulty, to know which computer you activated on and when plus any time you uninstalled Office.