There seems to be an unannounced change in the way Microsoft 365 works with a sign-in to a Microsoft account. This applies to Word 365, Excel 365, PowerPoint 365 and other Office apps.
Up to recently, Microsoft 365 / Office 365 has worked normally either when signed into a Microsoft account or not. Having a Microsoft account wasn’t required to use the software, though it had more features with a valid account.
The sign-in is shown on the right-side of Microsoft 365 title bar like this:
Without a sign-in like this:
Since Office 365 / Microsoft 365 started as an annual plan ‘subscription’, the programs have worked without a sign-in. The software still had to be activated and the 30 day licence check still applies but licenced Office would work without a Microsoft account login.
That’s the way Office still works on some of our test machines. Word, for example, is largely fully functional. Editing, Saving, Printing, etc are all available without a Microsoft account login. Even cloud features like Icons, Stock Images, Rewrite/Editor and spelling suggestions work “sans login”.
Some cloud-based features only work with a Microsoft account login. Most obviously, direct OneDrive access isn’t available. However, it’s possible to work with documents synced to the local computer. The OneDrive app login is separate from the Office/Microsoft 365 login.
That policy seems to be changing.
Is Microsoft account now required?
A Microsoft account login now appears to be required to use Office software. There are reports and we’ve been able to replicate this behavior on some Microsoft 365 installations.
- Sign out of a Microsoft account in Word 365, Excel 365, PowerPoint 365 or Outlook 365.
- Signing out of one app applies to all Office 365 apps immediately.
- Close all Office/Microsoft 365 apps.
- Restart one Office app, say Word.
- Office may not operate without a Microsoft account login.
Either a sign-in prompt appears or Office is tagged as ‘Unlicensed Product’ immediately.
“PRODUCT NOTICE Most of the features of Word have been disabled because it hasn’t been activated” with an Activate button.
Most features are disabled except viewing and printing but no editing.
This behavior isn’t consistent. We only have one test machine which acts this way and the reason for the difference isn’t clear.
Does it matter?
For the vast majority, this change won’t matter because they use Word, Excel etc with a sign-in.
There are situations where it’s useful to use Office apps without a sign-in. Maybe sharing a computer temporarily but don’t want that person to access your recent documents list etc.
Rental by person not for a device
The change (assuming it is a change, Microsoft has said nothing) is another way Microsoft is tightening their control over how and when customers use Office software.
It’s consistent with Microsoft’s change in licensing from a ‘per machine’ or ‘per installation’ approach to a ‘per user’ system. That change happened back in 2018: The new Office 365 licence system starts today
These days Microsoft 365/Office 365 is a software rental service where each customer pays to use Office software on any device.
Microsoft should announce licensing changes rather than just slipping them in and hope no one notices.