Office 2013, Windows 8, and Exchange server 2013

With the release of Office 2013 Microsoft has made some important – read ‘expensive’ – changes to various aspects of using Office and specifically Outlook with Exchange Server.

Firstly, Office 2013 will only run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers. That means that if you want to run the new Office (whichever way you purchase it, see below) you might need to upgrade your Windows. Excluding Volume License for a moment (discussed later) this means that you’ll potentially be buying and running Winodws 8 Professional upgrade. There is no Windows 8 ‘home’ upgrade option.

Costs here are around the £150+vat mark for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade. That’s on top of what you’ve already paid for MS Office.


Microsoft Exchange

If you have a Microsoft Exchange server, the news is worse: Outlook 2013 won’t connect to Microsoft Exchange 2003 – you will need to be running Exchange 2007 (SP3) or later.


The flip-side of this is that Exchange 2013 won’t allow connections from Outlook 2003 either. So if you’re happily running SBS2003 and Windows XP with Office 2003, guess what? It’s all totally obsolete and you can’t even phase-purchase your upgrades any more. You waited too long, my friend.


Office 365

One possible way out is to outsource your Microsoft Exchange service. Bad news: the servers running Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based service, have recently been updated to Exchange 2013. The upshot is that Outook 2003 won’t work with Office 365 any more either. Outlook 2007 barely hangs on by a thread, and Microsoft are desperate to ditch it too, listing only support for Office 2010 or later and Windows 7 or later. So there’s no skirting around the issue – if you have Office 2003 you’re just too old fashioned. “Get with the times…” an imaginary spokeperson from Microsoft said.


A Technical Nightmare

Office 2013 purchased as a product key-card (PKC) must be registered to a Microsoft Account – an email address that is known to Microsoft. This can be an existing Hotmail account, or you can link any email address at – it works similarly to how you can use any email address to register and sign in to iTunes, it’s just that the passwords won’t sync.

No problem you think – just link all of the computers in the office to the admin email address? Wrong – you can only link 5 Office 2013 product keys to each Microsoft Account. This usually leads to the tech guy setting up email aliases: msoffice1@, msoffice2@ etc and trying to manage that as a sysadmin 3 years later isn’t good, let me tell you!


Is Volume License a way out?

In contrast to OEM, PKC products, which can only be used on the PC they were purchased with, and any 1 PC in the case of retail FPP, Microsoft do offer a multi-user license option. This also includes downgrade rights for you to run previous versions of the software, so you can purchase Office 2013 licenses and run Office 2010 instead, which will still connect to your Exchange 2003 server. The sting in the tail is that volume licenses for MS Office Standard start around the £300 mark – each – and you have to buy a minimum of 5 units to qualify for a Volume License agreement.

The 5-unit minimum can be mix-and-match, so for example you could buy 2 MS Office Standard, 1 Server 2012 Standard, 1 Exchange Server 2013 Standard and 2 Windows and 2 Exchange CALs, giving you a total of 8 points. The cost for that little lot? Somewhere around the £1500 mark.

What you get for your money is the option to run the software you purchased, or an earlier version such as Office 2010. This would allow you to maintain compatability with Exchange 2003 for a while, then purchase new server hardware and install the new Exchange server and ultimately upgrade the PCs to Office 2013 when the server is ready.


OWA – Another Way Out?

Microsoft Exchange includes a web-based email access named Outlook Web Access or OWA. Since this runs in a web-browser, you can use any version of OWA with any web browser pretty much. If you are really stuck one way or the other, OWA does offer some sort of a solution, albeit a somewhat limited one. Each new release of Exchange improves OWA – 2003 is relatively basic compared to 2010 for example, so you’ll want to check suitability before making a decsion on it.


Options Overview

  • Must keep Exchange 2003 but need new computers => must buy MS Office Volume License MSOffice and downgrade, or use OWA only
  • Have Exchange 2007/2010 => no changes necessary, Outlook 2013 is compatible
  • Need a new server but can’t upgrade PCs as well => must buy Volume License Server/Exchange software and downgrade, or use OWA only
  • Want to use Office 365 cloud Email => Must use Office 2007+, or OWA only