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How to install Microsoft Office on Terminal Server

© June 2006 Anthony Lawrence

Update: Note the comments about Volume Licensing

A customer wanted to deploy Microsoft Office on Terminal Server. That's a fairly unusual thing: usually Office gets installed at individual PC's, so you'd have no real need to install it on the TS itself. But if you are using thin client terminals rather than PC's, well, there's no local machine to install Office on. You could have the same situation if you were using Macs or Linux machines to access the TS.

You'd think this would be easy, and actually it is, but getting there was quite a ride. The first thing I did was ask my distributor. They said, and I quote:

"The Microsoft Office Pro would simply be licensed and installed on each workstation at the PC level. It not licensed at the server level."

Hmm. Not listening. I can't install Office on a thin terminal. I pressed the issue and got another answer from his product manager:

"Microsoft Office remains a 'client' based license even in a terminal situation. However, Office can be loaded onto a server, and pulled/pushed down to the systems on the network. Each individual using it however still needs a copy of Office, it's just that all the license data will exist on the server, along with the Office programs and files.

They can do a 'network load' of Office to accomplish this."

Ok, that was getting me nowhere. I went to the Internet, but kept getting referred to articles like this which carefully explain that you need to be licensed - no cheating! No help there.

There's also a fair amount of stuff at Microsoft on the technical aspects of the install (as opposed to the licensing that I wanted to understand). You do need to review the specific article that references the version of office and the version of TS you plan to use. Some installs aren't quite straight-forward. Search Microsoft.com for "install office terminal server"; you'll find plenty.

But I needed to know about licensing, and that's what I could not find. I Googled for "licensing terminal server" and kept finding stuff explaining that you NEED the licenses, but couldn't find how you install them.

The customer called asking when they could get this done. I wrote to my distributor again, and this time the sales person referred me to support. Unfortunately, support had no clue either, but they did have connections with Microsoft, and soon enough we had a conference call going with a licensing rep.

"Sure, you can install Office on Terminal Server", she said. "You just need to license it for each user, and the licenses cannot be OEM licenses - they have to be retail or Volume Licensing."

Sigh. I'm still confused. "Volume licensing is for big customers, so we'll be buying individual copies.. But exactly HOW do I install these licenses?", I pleaded.

"You don't have to install them", she answered.

Light dawns.

"Are you saying I buy five retail copies, go to the TS, do my 'change user /install', install ONE copy of Office, put ONE license key on it, do 'change user /execute' and then put the other four copies in the filing cabinet?", I asked.

"Yes. You just need them to be legal for an audit."

Sheesh. Why can't they just say that in plain English? Well, maybe because they really don't want you to know that because it makes you realize that you could run a hundred users or more with one license if you don't care about the legality.

My customer cares about legality and so do I, so we'll put the unused copies on the shelf.

Remember - OEM licenses are no good. The licenses also have to match exactly: having a Windows XP Office license doesn't give you the right to run Win 2003 Office on the TS. Everything has to match before you file it away.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Office on Terminal Server


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Fri Jun 30 17:43:01 2006: 2200   TonyLawrence

By the way, I originally had these folks on Open Office.. but the users just fussed and fumed, so the company gave up and said they'd buy Office. But now that it has to be the high priced retail versions (about $100 more than OEM licenses), we'll see if the management still wants to give in to the users.

Also: mostly this TS is used to access an app running on a Unix server :-)
You might wonder why we don't just go direct to Unix; well, I wish we could, but the app requires a Windows client..

Sun Jul 2 06:31:50 2006: 2203   drag

OpenOffice.org is different enough to cause problems I suppose. It's a tough nut to crack though.

Maybe something usefull at (link)

Although I don't know.

I read somewere were people were told to try out OO.org they found all sorts of problems and resisted the change. They knew that if they resisted then they would simply go back to using MS Office and wouldn't have to learn anything new.

But later on it was found out that if you simply make aviable openoffice.org AND MS office to the same machines, but made openoffice.org easier to find and made it the default for all the related file formats then the vast majority of people simply started using openoffice.org rather then figuring out how to reconfigure the file-application associations.

So maybe it would be cool to make openoffice.org more easily aviable. Then after maybe in a year or so then it would be easier for everybody to migrate away from Microsoft's office product.

Thu Jan 25 12:57:42 2007: 2829   TonyLawrence

It frustrates me that so many on-line sellers offer OEM and other illegal versions.. customers see these prices and think the legal versions I offer them are a complete ripoff..

Thu Jan 25 14:38:42 2007: 2830   BigDumbDinosaur

It's Microsoft that's the ripoff. Also, I liked the comment about being prepared for an audit. These people must think they're modern day versions of Hitler's brownshirts with the authority to just barge into your office and start pawing through your files.

Wed Jun 20 18:01:16 2007: 3036   anonymous

So by reading your post reguarding OEM, If I were to purchase a refurbished computer with an OEM XP lic sticker on the machine, and XP loaded on the machine, it's not a leagal copy, or is this a different story.

Wed Jun 20 18:09:56 2007: 3037   TonyLawrence

I dunno, but Office 2007 now requires Volume Licensing for Terminal Server.

That means you can't install a normal retail copy on Terminal Server.

Wed Feb 6 15:09:30 2008: 3595   anonymous

If you buy a refurb PC with an OEM version of the Windows OS, that's perfectly legal, so long as you're also given any associated media for reinstalling Windows (if such media was provided with the PC originally). The same applies if the refurb PC comes with an OEM version of Office.

The catch with OEM versions is that 1) They must be sold WITH a computer (technically at least a motherboard and hard drive); and 2) They can never be transferred to another computer, even if the original PC fails.

Retail and Volume License versions on the other hand don't have to be sold with a PC and can be moved from PC to PC at will, so long as the number of installations doesn't exceed the number of licenses owned.

Wed Feb 6 19:28:18 2008: 3597   TonyLawrence

Microsoft licensing sure is fun :-)

Tue Dec 13 11:11:46 2011: 10345   DK


As your post is quite old I must add a warning about two changes:
- Desktop applications are licensed "by device" and NOT "by user" so you need a license for every device from which office is accessed on terminal server.
- From 2007 not just OEM but also retail versions of office do not permit network use any more - so FPP on TS or RDP server - no go.

More info:

Tue Dec 13 12:31:25 2011: 10346   TonyLawrence


Thanks! I appreciate the update.

Sun Jun 10 17:12:01 2012: 11076   zxq9


I support SMB customers in mostly/increasingly Linux environments. One problem we run in to is customers who deal with US government contracting, because despite all the open government and EU and Asian government initiatives and lots of local government initiatives in the US at the state and local level the Department of Defense still uses MS Office, so most contract proposals, memos and other fluff tend to fly around in .docx format. (We're based in Japan, by the way, and they have a government mandate for ODF already in place. The reason this is a problem for some of my customers is they are in the US military contracting business for construction and base services, etc.)

LibreOffice has pretty much fixed all of the usability and docx support irritations of the past, but things that users notice but don't actually effect the information passed (like stretched image or artsy lettering in document headers) sometimes turn out weird, so they want MS Office.

This is a problem for a few of my clients. I figured running just Excel and Word on demand over TS would be the solution, but its not, as DK pointed out above. So now after discussing this with clients and local government (tangentially involved, but subject to their own open source mandate), we've got some sort of ridiculous patch-over solutions in place for the time being (like running rdesktop to legacy WindowsXP systems destined for the trash but temporarily sitting on the network in a closet), and preparing for a series of site-wide retraining sessions on how to live with LibreOffice, as well as using LibreOffice as the default on existing Windows systems (new and old).

In effect, we're getting paid in training and support fees roughly what Microsoft would have gotten paid in license fees, but we're keeping the client and MS is losing them in a way that is much more complete now than if this situation didn't exist. I don't see how this makes any sense for Microsoft.

Fri Mar 15 21:54:29 2013: 11977   anonymous


you cant use retail box licenses, only open licenses.


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