Beware Microsoft Office 2010 Product Key Card ‘Bargain’

Thinking of buying Microsoft Office 2010 for a new computer? Avoid the great Product Key Card rip off… A Product Key Card is a different way to buy Office 2010 – it’s intended for use with a new computer. The traditional boxed retail Office package contains an installation DVD and the product key required to activate Office.

However, a Product Key Card is just that – a card with the product key written on it (although sometimes it only has a PIN – not the product key required to activate, more on that later). The crucial differences between the Product Key Card and boxed DVD package versions are:

1. Number of Licenses – The Product Key Card includes a license for 1 computer only. The DVD version includes a license for 3 computers (Home & Student) or 2 computers belonging to the same user (Home & Business).

2. Ability To Transfer License – The Product Key Card license cannot be transferred to another computer – if your computer dies (or is replaced under warranty!) you lose the license and have to buy Office again… The DVD version license can be transferred to another computer. If your computer dies you can use the license on another computer.

3. Included Software – The Product Key Card does not include any software – a new computer may come preloaded with Office 2010 which you can just activate. If not, you must download Office from Microsoft, install it and activate that.

The DVD version includes the Office 2010 software on DVD. If a new computer is preloaded with Office 2010 (and it’s the same version e.g. Home & Student) you can just activate that without needing to install anything. If not, you must install Office from DVD and activate that.

Hopefully it should be obvious by now that the Product Key Card license is extremely limited – especially the inability to transfer it to another computer. So why is it so often pushed upon consumers when buying a new PC?

‘Advantages’ Of Product Key Card – According to Microsoft there are several advantages of the Card – let’s consider how they hold up in practice:

1. Great value for one license only – At an online shop the Product Key Card and DVD versions of 2010 Home & Student are actually the same price ($99.99). The Product Key Card for the Home & Business edition is slightly more worthwhile – the DVD version costs $186 compared to $150 for the Product key Card. However, self-employed or small business owners may think having the ability to install it on a PC and laptop and to transfer the license to a new computer is worth far more than $36…

2. Quick and easy to install, no discs needed – Whilst it’s true that no disc is needed if the new computer comes with the same version of Office preloaded, this is also true of the DVD version – you can just use the license that came with it to activate, no need to install from the DVD. What’s more, the DVD version comes with the 25 character Product Key used to activate.

However, the Product Key Card (despite the name) often doesn’t – if bought from a big box retailer it may only includes a 27 character PIN which you can use to obtain a Product Key from Microsoft. To do this you need a Windows Live account – if you don’t already have one that just adds another level of complexity and wasted time to the process.

If Office is not preloaded it is much quicker and easier to install from a DVD than have to download a 600MB+ installation file from Microsoft.

3. Eco-friendly – The Card version certainly appears greener than the DVD version. However, if Office was preloaded on your computer it would be advisable to download and burn a DVD backup copy of Office in case you ever need to reinstall or repair it.

If you follow that sensible advice, all the Card version is doing is passing on the environmental impact of burning a DVD from Microsoft to you… A more sensible eco-friendly route would be to cut down on the size of the DVD packaging – there’s no reason why it should be entombed in quite so much plastic.


Be aware of the potential pitfalls of the Product Key Card – especially if buying a new computer. Unless it is offered at a substantial discount (e.g. 50%) compared to the DVD version I find it hard to see any real benefits, just a lot of potentially major disadvantages.

4 thoughts on “Beware Microsoft Office 2010 Product Key Card ‘Bargain’”

  1. I bought a Product Key Card in a box and did not even know about not being able to transfer the license. I’ve been cheated! Well, this is a small thing compared to how “easy” it was to install.

    First the download service gave an error message “unable to retrieve a key”, I tried again, got to a page informing me to press the “download now” button. There was no button on the page. I made a support request, chose the email option. Later I got a reply with great guidance to call to a support phone number, that does not even work from my country. How great an email support!

    Even later I got a receipt email with a link to “Account Management Console”, which I used. On the page all seem to be in place including my account information and the Office SW with an order number and even a download link. Used the link… “Unfortunately, we are not able to process your request due to U.S. trade restrictions.” I’m not in North Korea, #%%&&! And I have paid for the Key Card already!

    Being a patient person, I went to the online chat support. Chatted half an hour with three different persons only to get an overseas support phone number. I called, gave all the details and was forwarded to another person (i.e. the 5th support person). Half an hour of talking and waiting the guy gave me the local support number, that serve only during office hours. It’s weekend and I bet the local support will not be able to help me on Monday because the download services are hosted in another country supported by web services in US.

    In a best case (<10% likelihood) I will get my SW in a week from purchasing the Key Card…

    • @Ari – thanks for your story. It seems all too common for the download process to turn into a long winded process at best, a convoluted mess of support calls at worst… The DVD license/installation process is so painless it’s a shame that they push the Product Key card at all.

      For a $100+ purchase the process should be super smooth and well tested. Hope you do get your software installed and activated very soon :-)

  2. Given the cost of a disk (think of the entertainment sector, and the number of free disks with magazines) it is impossible to defend the tactic of “selling” something like Office as a sometimes very complicated procedure on any sensible grounds. The comment that if they dumped the vastly excessive plastic and other packaging has been spot on ever since they started it, especially now the box never contains a User Guide (as they once used to – it came in three or four volumes!).

    Once again M$ are maximising profit solely for profit’s sake. No doubt they will soon twig that they’ll save lots more by just “selling” a small envelope with a key to get a key to get a download. And the average times estimated by M$ to download are way too optimistic for most customers.

  3. Yes I unfortunately have been baptised by fire with respect to this new way of thinking. I paid for a product key that microsoft tech gave me over the phone and never emailed to me and to make matters worse when I had to restore windows 7 49.95 from Toshiba of course I could not find my product key AND Microsoft charged my card but had no record of the transaction… they wouldn’t give me another product key. So I have to pay for another Product Key – they had the record of the useless backup disk they sent me BUT not the product key. As a result I will most likely have to purchase a product key again I am currently protesting the charge with Microsoft. I will buy the key via ebay or amazon BUT NOT MICROSOFT. Thanks for the info great write up.

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