back to article Non-human Microsoft Office users get their own special licences

Microsoft has detailed a new form of software licence it offers to non-human users. Revealed in April, the new Microsoft 365 E3 – Unattended License “permits usage of Office client applications with service or other non-user accounts, which is common for automation process execution.” Microsoft explains scenarios such as Excel …

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    Ancient Astronaut Theororists say...

    Yes! Alien robots will want to have the novel experience of unpredictability and will pay handsomely for the privilege.

  2. Peter2 Silver badge

    Microsoft’s also warned that unattended use is fragile. In the announcement of the licence would-be users are warned that product updates “may at times inhibit fully predictable unattended automation of Office applications” and that “Office applications have not been specifically designed for unattended usage at scale.”

    Unfortunately, attended use is also fragile. At least, I think so based on the number of problems i have with Office 2016/2019 randomly stopping working with other applications using it's API's, and the developer support for the application in question having a very long and complex "known issues" KB entry on the subject.

    I'd personally prefer Microsoft sort out office applications to be specifically designed for attended usage at scale before worrying too much about unattended problems.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Yes. I particularly "like" the way the update mechanism combines with the autosave mechanism when editing online documents, so that you can be literally in the middle of typing a sentence, pause just *slightly* too long at the wrong time, autosave does its thing and then *boom* your document apparently vanishes along with the rest of the Office suite, only to all reappear again 20-30s later once the uber-critical update has been applied.

      I say uber-critical only because I can't think of any good reason why an update should cause any apps actively in use to be shut down without giving the user any warning (even if done so in a way that avoids data loss), unless the update in question has to be applied RIGHT NOW damnit, don't you see, the fate of the whole universe, your family, loved ones, and several small cute kittens, rests on applying this patch within the next 37.6 seconds...

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Happy

        Microsoft understands your concern and would like to offer the following explanation:

        "Because we can, so f___ you."

        Have a nice day!

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          I call BS on your answer... Microsoft don't normally bother being so clear and concise, an actual response would be something like:

          "Hello my name is _____, I am a Microsoft support specialist, I understand that you are having a problem doing <repeat customer's exact words here with no indication of actual comprehension>.

          First, please run SFC /scannow and re-install all Windows files.... (long list of utterly irrelevant and pointless suggestions skipped for brevity)

          Finally, f___ you."

      2. Zikizac

        Use new Chromium-based Edge and this won’t be happening.

        In any case, nobody is shutting down your app — you didn’t have to re-open it, did you?

        And speaking of the automated use, the document could be updated continuously, non-stop, in which case the app would need to take a moment to do Auto-save, it’s unavoidable, and it quite often could be taking noticeable time, e.g., if your document is a very large spreadsheet or any other document with many embedded objects.

        But speaking specifically about the browser extension code update, Chromium uses sandboxes for execution and a new one, with the updated software should be standing ready when the old one is decommissioned, but the data (document) and the operating context (the exact state) would have to be read into it when you switch. The switch is done on the POST (or GET) API call from the extension, Auto-save in the online Office is one of such POST API calls.

        If the extension code is not updated in a timely fashion, i.e., if to allow the user choose when to update, different components of the online Office, some of which are executed in the separate extensions, could become incompatible, code update orchestration and synchronization between them is a complex business which doesn’t need to more complication by avoidable delays in updates of individual components.

        So, if use are using the latest Edge and still get a too-long of a delay during the automated software update (although it’s hard to imagine how often this could be happening to present a real substantive UX problem), the recommendations are:

        — upgrade your HW, but more importantly...

        — upgrade to a Gigabit bandwidth

        — consider using Microsoft Virtual Desktop

        — or go back to the locally-installed Office and receive Office upgrades via Windows Update when upgrades are pushed to your individual PC (you must be familiar with this experience and the timelines implications, it’s your choice, at least you won’t have anybody to blame that your Office app is precipitously “shut down”).

        Good luck.

  3. Julz Silver badge

    When

    The Bot doesn't pay up, they can take it to court. Oh, bugger, it's not a person...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Bot doesn't pay up, they can take it to court. Oh, bugger, it's not a person...

      Well in the USA they'll soon just declare it a person. Then the Bot will have the right to buy an unlimited number of political ads.

  4. JassMan Silver badge
    Trollface

    Just wait

    Once they have established a precedent for the bot needing a licence, they will quietly add another mini-licence for every single data source.

    Quickly followed by a name change from Micro$haft to Mega$haft. You certainly will have been if the lawyers can make this stick.

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Re: Just wait

      Could be their theory, but they would probably get a copyright claim for duplicating the SAP licences

  5. DJV Silver badge

    Coming soon...

    Microsoft licences for:

    * cats (who happen to be in the same room as someone using MS software)

    * houseflies (because these, like many of Microsoft's bugs, are really 'features')

    * doors (because they are like windows, sort of, maybe... oh well, let's try it and see if anyone falls for it)

    * breathing (or is that one already in use by Ryanair as an extra option on their flights?)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Coming soon...

      You obviously never saw a per CPU liscence?

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: Coming soon...

        Oh God yes! I do remember those. I wonder if they ever considered additional licences for each RAM module! Then again, as they always crippled the Home versions by limiting the amount of RAM they could access, I suppose it could be argued that they did, sort of!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Coming soon...

          Not each ram module, but you could do one per VM. Which I think a few do.

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Coming soon...

            Oracle once had per-motherboard's-surface-mount-decoupling-capacitor licensing, I'm pretty sure.

      2. Zikizac

        Re: Coming soon...

        Or...

        - per-megabyte/terabyte of data license (Oracle DBMS), in addition to CPU type and CPU number

        - per-click license (basically, AdWords)

        - per-use and type of use license (Siemens MRI machines, LASIK and other ultra-expensive devices which are rented, not purchased)

        - pet-time-interval use license (one-time movie rental, old-fashion one or online)

        Don’t be kids

  6. JassMan Silver badge
    Trollface

    All your data are berong to us

    You have been pwned.

    Once enough companies sign up to this there will be a tiny change to the licence which points out that since the bot has been using MS APIs to insert the aggregated data, you have agreed to allow MS non-exclusive use of any derivative document for any purpose they wish. Much in the same way photographers are shafted by publishing their pics on most of the popular socialmedia.

    Presumably the reason MS have created this licence is 'cos their office telemetry told them that the software was in use 24/7 in some companies and someone twiganyone couldn't be a human working those hours. Their argument for the above change of licence will be that since the data was not aggregated by a human it has no owner, ergo MS might as well own the copyright as anyone.

  7. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pirate

    What about Volume Licensing?

    I know we have VL for Office. Would that apply to Bots and minions?

    1. Psmo
      Thumb Up

      Re: What about Volume Licensing?

      I would assume so.

      It's a great solution to the stupidity of having your API calls using real users' details.

      If I had a quid every time that a password or staffing change had accidently killed an automated process I'd be a rich person.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    “Office applications have not been specifically designed for unattended usage at scale”

    Wrong. They have not been designed for any usage at scale.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: “Office applications have not been specifically designed for unattended usage at scale”

      My worldwide colleagues and I are attempting to jointly and simultaneously review and make edits to a large (250+ page) Word document located on a sharepoint server. So, I'm getting a kick out of this.

      It's going about as well as you'd expect it to. 10+ people have it open, not actively editing it, mind you, just "in" the document, and it's throwing everyone off once every couple of minutes. "You have been disconnected, remember to save any changes before refreshing"...at which point it repositions you at the top of the document and begins the minute-long refresh process. Whether or not your changes (or some portion thereof) have been saved will be revealed to you at a later time.

      Now, to be fair, the doc is large, track changes is on, as are comments, there are people from my org, and the client's org looking at it, and there are lots of drawings and images, and the usual multiple levels of formatting, tables, fonts, and so on. Some folks are editing it online with Office 365, some are editing it locally, and, of course, everyone's using a different version of Word. It's hard to understand why the damn thing even works at all, but, unfortunately, this is reality in the corporate world.

      Now, you might expect a company who has been developing and selling basic office software for several decades to appreciate this, and to have put some effort into developing a robust architecture before offering "shared document editing" as a product. Perhaps, somewhere, there is such a company.

      But, it is not Microsoft.

      1. Zikizac

        Re: “Office applications have not been specifically designed for unattended usage at scale”

        Multi-user “shared” (concurrent/simultaneous) editing is only offered by Microsoft “as part of the product” via Microsoft Teams architecture.

        Simple sharing of documents via OneDrive or SharePoint was never designed and offered by Microsoft as a *product* but rather as a limited feature with many asterisks (particularly related to the simultaneous experience). SharePoint does not imply simultaneous editing of the same objects.Many users can get a copy of the same object and edit it independently, but then they would need to integrate their edits back together, and they better have established beforehand who would be editing what (it’s called data governance rules, in this case they can’t be enforced, and have to be validated when the different, updated copies of the document are being merged/integrated back into one, which is not managed by SharePoint.

        Nor shared (concurrent/simultaneous multi-user) editing of documents truly supported via OneOrive sharing architecture. Multiuser editing is possible, but not truly simultaneous. Even Google Docs ultimately can not provide such experience, since multiple people physically cannot be updating the same letter in the same document at the same time and observe how they cannot do it in a true real time for everybody. There are actually very few same things that people can do at the same time in an uncoordinated fashion, and in such cases usually no more than two actors can participate without “stepping on each other toes” — so, accordingly to that expression, one of such activities would be pair dancing, another sex, and as the number of participants grows, if the same specific goal to be maintained, the degree of planning, coordination, or real-time communication necessary grows too, be it a verbal communication, as in a group debate, or non-verbal or combination in that other case. And still, there are always some ground rules. Another example is playing music or performing as group — it’s highly orchestrated, choreographed and rehearsed, if the common goal outcome with contributions from many to be expected.

        There is one special case of collaborative activity which is not pre-planned, communicated, or orchestrated in the real time, yet it extremely harmoniously happens in the absolute real time with a common goal output. The common goal is maintained, but the exact collaborative output is never predictable, and there are quite a few underlying rules, or even a framework to which all participants conform to produce the output albeit exactly unpredictable yet highly coherent to the common goal. It’s Jazz, and it’s obviously art, although it based on a use of lot of common technology, i.e., rhythm, musical harmony, other musical disciplines, and acute listening of everyone and everybody as a whole by every given participant, which could certainly could be considered as form of very deliberate communication; in many respects it’s not much different from a productive group debate, although it’s hard to imagine verbal human debate produce the same high-value output as Jazz. Not goal oriented and deliberate group human communication could be very harmonious and pleasant, but it cannot be as productive.

        So these are the ultimate natural limits of what’s possible in a collaborative processes of different kinds. Basically, naturally it nearly never happens before more than two people, and it happens there, because nature programmed it.

        You can extrapolate from these examples. Computer technology can help a lot with coordination and communication, especially substituting interpersonal communication, particularly the information exchange and speed of its visual representation, but the problem stepping of each other toes without coordination (rules) and synchronization/serialization (sequencing), and orchestration (all together-governance) remains the same. Below this topic is discussed specifically in application for collaborative electronic content creation using computer systems.

        Specifically for Office document shared collaboration, the best architecture that Microsoft came up with so far is Microsoft Teams framework. Try simultaneous remote multi-user collaboration on the same documents In the Channels via Microsoft Teams (see details here, and pay attention to the difference between In-channel document shared addicting and just cloud document sharing — it’s vastly different modes: https://is.gd/JfgpY0).

        But if you need a true, robust, multi-user document editing capability, there is a number of industrial publishing packages which offer this capability, it’s this functionality has been around, even on PCs and other computers before Windows arrived (Xerox was the first to offer this, and it was the first to develop graphical user interface, GUI, which Apple and Microsoft, in Windows, famously coopted), for more than three decades.

        Although this software is usually focused on visual editing rather than semantics (text), text is obviously part of it. Still, in such software the “edit mode” used to be granted to a specific user on a per-page basis; for the cross-page formatting, one would need special permissions, including allowing content to spill over to next pages and push their content down. Or the edit permissions could be given within an editorial piece spanning several pages, but the individual editors, who only could edit the pice one at a time, do not control the layout of the piece across pages (this a normal process in magazine editing.) For such an industrial multi-user collaborative process to work, there must be a robust system of governance in place.

        If you know anything about enterprise database management systems work, you would understand, that only one person (or process) can edit/update a record at one time. Any number of users can simultaneously edit their own copies of the same record, but under normal circumstances, whoever saves their version last, wins, due to something called “serialization” (so, obviously, saving has to be coordinated: if the record has been changed by someone after you made your copy for editing, you cannot overwrite a newly saved version before merging the record content into your copy and making sure that your edits are done upon the latest the version of the record. Regardless of the fact that no data is overwritten these days, just new copies of the changed data are saved, still it’s necessary to know which saved copy is the “latest” or “current” version of truth. So all sorts of data governance schemes defined how the editing of the “same” piece of data is done.

        Word do documents are XML documents, which are basically a nested hierarchy of objects, as far as their content, as as far as their layout, that is dynamically defined on the screen, this type of document editing/production is called WYSIWYG, or “what you see is what you get”. It’s dynamic, but not predictable (you can’t refer in the beginning of the text to a specific page and guarantee that what you are referring to will be in that page, as the document continues to progress. At his is opposed to a publishing (a paper of magazine layout, where the article breaks on one page, where it states that it is continued on specific other page, and that is guaranteed. In Word do document for online publication, one can use dynamic pointers to the later placed in the document, regardless where they would end up in the document. The footnotes are also managed dynamically.

        The point is though, that in the WYSIWYG editing environment, what one person sees of one document may not necessarily be the same what another person editing the same document would see, and if anybody were to print the document at any point in time, or save a personal copy, what they would get is also unpredictable, if a bunch of people are editing the same document, especially if they are editing potentially the very same text as another person or people happen to be editing. (The effect would be something like when you give control of your screen, keyboard, and mouse to another person, and then try to do something yourself — two or more people cannot edit the same piece of data, be it a word, a sentence, a paragraph — whatever the atomic unit of data is chosen by a given multiuser software, and the updates that everybody does cannot be replicated and seen on everyone-else’s screen in an absolutely real time, especially if one is changing what another one has just changed. There has to be some coordination. There are no miracles, even in quantum physics, one thing cannot be *and* be observed at two different places at the same time (if this works for an analogy).

  9. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Hmm.

    Nope, still don't want Office. Not without a scratching post.

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