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Demystifying Microsoft Project Licensing

Explore a Simple MS Project Alternative

Microsoft Project Licensing

 

Does MS Project come bundled with MS Office? What is a CAL? Do I need a Sharepoint CAL? Can I run MS Project on my Mac? Does Project Online work with Office 365 Plans? Why do I need Project Lite? If you have wondered about these questions, and have been mystified by MS Project licensing, you have come to the right place. This article will explain the various MS Project products (both cloud and on-premise versions) and their licensing.

MS Project offers numerous products targeted at different audiences. You might be a project manager who prefers to manage a project in a silo, or a portfolio manager in a PMO who wants to make decisions at a portfolio level. What if you are a team member who wants to provide status updates? Let's look at the available options and their dependencies.

On-Premise Deployment

Project Standard 

Project Standard is only available on-premise and is targeted at project managers who are managing small team projects. Project Standard is a standalone product and does not have the capability to connect to Project Server for a portfolio-level view.

As far as getting status updates from your team, you could purchase Project Standard for each team member; however, giving each of your team members a license of Project Standard can be prohibitively expensive. In that case, project managers will typically print out copies of the project plan and get status updates on paper, or during regular team meetings, and update the project plan themself. A more efficient route to solve this problem is to upgrade to Project Professional and Project Server/Project CAL (see below).

Project Professional 

Project Professional provides more features than Project Standard. One of the major reasons for choosing Project Professional over Project Standard is its ability to connect to Project Server. Connecting to Project Server enables you to gain a portfolio-level view and give View, Update, or Edit access to project team members. In addition to delivering portfolio-level capabilities, Project Professional also provides the ability to manage resources and collaborate with your team via Skype for Business.

Project Server and Project CAL 

Project Server gives you the ability to execute your business at a project portfolio level. While Project Professional is deployed in various businesses and can operate in a silo, Project Server allows you to bring all the various projects together, and give View, Access, or Edit rights to team members and executives across the organization.

From a licensing standpoint, Project Server deployment also requires you to license Windows Server, SQL Server and Sharepoint Server. You will also require the corresponding CALs (Sharepoint CAL, SQL CAL, etc.) to ensure that you are meeting all the necessary licensing terms. CAL stands for Client Access License, and provides your users the right to access a server. Typically, end users have access to the Project Server via the Project Web App (PWA).

If you have deployed Project Server, Project CALs give your users and devices the right to access Project Server. There are two types of CAL, a User CAL and a Device CAL. The User CAL gives a user the right to access the server and the Device CAL is for devices. Potentially, these two types of CALs are priced differently and might have different use rights (check your licensing agreement). Typically, each user and each device needs one CAL. Keep in mind that each license of Project Professional includes one Project Device CAL.

Cloud Deployment

Project Pro for Office 365 

First of all let's clarify the difference between Project Professional and Project Pro for Office 365. Both are pretty similar products, except that Project Professional is an on-premise product and Project Pro for Office 365 is a cloud product. While both versions are clients installed on your PC, the major difference is how they are updated. If you have a Software Assurance agreement with Microsoft, you get new versions of Project Professional when new versions are launched by Microsoft (typically, once every few years).

With Project Pro for Office 365, you do not need to worry about manual updates. If you've enabled automatic updates, Microsoft will keep updating the installed client on your PC on a recurring basis. Another major difference is number of installations. Typically, one license of Project Professional gives you the ability to install on one PC. With Project Pro for Office 365, you are licensed to install on up to five PC’s.

One of the main reasons for choosing Project Pro for Office 365 is the ability to connect it to Project Online. This enables you to gain insight into the portfolio-level view, and give View, Update, or Edit access to project team members. Subscription to Project Pro for Office 365 gives you the right to access Project Online and Project Server.

In addition to delivering portfolio-level capabilities, Project Pro for Office 365 provides the ability to manage resources and collaborate with your team via Skype for Business.

Project Online 

Project Online is the product corresponding to Project Server, but in the cloud. It gives you the same abilities as Project Server with all the benefits of the cloud (e.g. no investments in hardware, maintenance and upgrades).

What about CALs? Since Project Online is in the cloud, there is no concept of CALs. You can buy subscriptions of Project Online for as many users as you want. Typically, the audience of Project Online is PMO and executives.

What if you already have a Project Server deployment and you want to test the waters in the cloud? From a licensing perspective, Microsoft has made it easy for you to manage your projects in a hybrid world. You can access your existing Project Server deployment via a Project Online subscription.

Project Lite 

While Project Online is targeted at PMO and executives, how should you provide access to your many team members? Project Lite is the product targeted at the team-level audience. In order to use Project Lite, you must have a subscription to Project Online. From a technical standpoint, Project Lite is exactly the same product as Project Online, but offered at a lower price point.

From a licensing standpoint, Project Lite enables you to use a subset of capabilities. These capabilities allow you to view and edit timesheets, manage tasks, add issues and risks, and collaborate on project documents. Similar to Project Online, the subscription to Project Lite gives you access rights to Project Server deployment.

Project Online with Project Pro for Office 365 

Targeted at project managers, Project Online bundled with Project Pro for Office 365 enables you to add Project Online and Project Pro for Office 365 in one transaction instead of two separate ones (without any price discount).

Office 365 Dependence 

One question that comes up often is whether cloud services of Project are bundled with Office 365 Plans. The answer is no. None of the Office 365 Plans include subscriptions to Project. You can either purchase subscriptions to Project standalone or you can add them to your existing Office 365 subscription. To add a Project subscription to an existing Office 365 subscription, the Office 365 subscription should be in the Business (Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business Premium), Enterprise (Office 365 Enterprise E1, Office 365 Enterprise E3, Office 365 Enterprise E4, Office 365 Enterprise E5, Office 365 Enterprise K1), Education (Office 365 Education), or Government (Office 365 Government E1, Office 365 Government E3, Office 365 Government E4, Office 365 Government K1) families. If you have a subscription to an Office 365 plan that is not listed above, your subscription to Project cannot be added to your existing Office 365 subscription and will need to be added separately.

Hybrid Deployment

What if you already have a Project Server deployment and want to test the waters in the cloud? From a licensing perspective, Microsoft has made it easy for you to manage your projects in a hybrid setting. You can access your existing Project Server deployment via a Project Online subscription. Similar to Project Online, the subscriptions to Project Lite and Project Pro for Office 365 give you access rights to your Project Server deployment.

MS Project Licensing Visual Guide


This visual guide provides a high-level overview of the various MS Project products, their licensing options, and dependencies. You can download a PDF version of the guide (using the link below) to reference when determining which MS Project product is right for you and your team. 

Download the MS Project Licensing Visual Guide

FAQ

On-Premise Deployment
 

Q: Does MS Project come bundled with MS Office?

No. Project is not bundled with Office and must be purchased separately.

Q: Why do I need Project Professional?

Project Professional provides more features than Project Standard. One of the major reasons for choosing Project Professional is the ability to connect to Project Server. This enables you to gain insight into the portfolio-level view, and give View, Update, or Edit access to project team members via Project CAL.

Q: Can I connect Project Standard to Project Server?

No. Project Standard is ‘standalone’ and does not connect to Project Server. You will need to upgrade to Project Professional to access Project Server.

Q: How do I upgrade from Project Standard to Project Professional?

Depending on your licensing agreement, you may be able to purchase the upgrade SKU (paying the price difference) and not need a new Project Professional license. If your licensing agreement does not provide an upgrade path, you will have to purchase a new Project Professional license.

Q: Why do I need Project Server?

Project Server gives you the ability to execute your business at a project portfolio level. While Project Professional is deployed in many businesses and can operate in a silo, Project Server allows you to bring all your projects together, and give View, Access, or Edit rights to various team member across the organization.

Q: I am ready to license Project Server. Is that enough?

No. Project Server deployment also requires you to license Windows Server, SQL Server and Sharepoint Server. You will also need the corresponding CALs (Sharepoint CAL, etc.) to ensure that you meet all the necessary licensing terms.

Q: What is a CAL?

CAL stands for Client Access License and provides the right to access a server. If you have deployed Project Server, Project CALs give your users and devices the right to access Project Server.

Q: Are there various types of CAL?

Yes. Typically, there are two types of CAL, a User CAL and a Device CAL. A User CAL gives a user the right to access the server and a Device Cal is for devices. Potentially, these two types of CALs are priced differently and might have different use rights (check your licensing agreement).

Q: How many Project CALs do I need?

This depends on the number of users and devices that will be accessing the Project Server. Typically, each user and each device need one CAL.

Q: Does Project Professional include a CAL?

Yes. Each license of Project Professional includes one Project Device CAL.

 

Cloud Deployment
 

Q: Is it cheaper to use the cloud version of MS Project?

It depends. When you think of cost, you should not only think of the licensing costs, but the total cost of product ownership. In addition to licensing costs, the cost of hardware, professional consulting fees, and recurring maintenance costs should be factored in. Obviously when one uses MS Project in the cloud, some of these costs are not incurred. The answer to the question is very specific to your use case and should be modelled out.  

Q: I am already using MS Project on-premise. How do I transition to cloud?

Depending on your licensing agreement with Microsoft, you might be able to use the transition SKUs to switch to cloud and not have to purchase new SKUs. The transition SKUs give you the ability to simply pay the cost difference.  

Q: Are all cloud SKUs of MS Project web browser based?

No. Project Pro for Office 365 is not web browser based, it is a client that is installed on your PC. Project Online and Project Lite are web browser based.
 
Q: I have a Mac, am I able to use all cloud SKUs of MS Project on my Mac?

No. Only Project Online and Project Lite that are web browser based can be used on your Mac. Project Pro for Office 365 can only be used on a Windows PC.

Q: Do I own the license to the cloud SKU after I stop paying the subscription fee?

No. You have access rights to the cloud SKU only while you are paying the subscription fee. This is different from on-premise versions where you own the license.
 
Q: What is the difference between Project Professional and Project Pro for Office 365?

While both versions are installed clients on your PC, the major difference between Project Professional and Project Pro for Office 365 is how they are updated. If you have a Software Assurance agreement with Microsoft, you get new versions of Project Professional when new versions are launched by Microsoft (typically, once every few years). With Project Pro for Office 365, you do not need to worry about updates. If you have enabled automatic updates, Microsoft will keep updating the installed client on your PC on a recurring basis. Another major difference is number of installations. Typically, one license of Project Professional gives you the ability to install on one PC. With Project Pro for Office 365, you are licensed to install up to five PCs.
 
Q: Do I need to be an Office 365 subscriber to use cloud SKUs of Project?

No. Project can be purchased and deployed independent of Office 365. You can continue to use the on-premise version of Office and still deploy Project in the cloud. If you are an Office 365 subscriber, you can choose to add the Project cloud subscription to your current Office 365 subscription as an add-on, or have two different subscriptions. 
 
Q: Do cloud products of Project work with all Office 365 Plans?

No. Before purchasing Project cloud SKUs, make sure which Office 365 SKU you are on. Depending on the Office 365 SKU, you may be able to add the new Project cloud SKUs to your current subscription. To add a Project subscription to an existing Office 365 subscription, the Office 365 subscription must be in the Business (Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business Premium), Enterprise (Office 365 Enterprise E1, Office 365 Enterprise E3, Office 365 Enterprise E4, Office 365 Enterprise E5, Office 365 Enterprise K1), Education (Office 365 Education), or Government (Office 365 Government E1, Office 365 Government E3, Office 365 Government E4, Office 365 Government K1) families. If you have a subscription to an Office 365 plan that is not listed above, your subscription to Project cannot be added to your existing Office 365 subscription and will need to be added separately.

Q: Do I need Sharepoint Online to use Project Online?

Yes. Sharepoint Online is an infrastructural requirement for using Project Online. If you do not already have Sharepoint Online, it will be deployed for you while deploying Project Online. 
 
Q: When do I need Project Online vs  Project Lite?

From a technical standpoint, Project Lite has the same capabilities as Project Online. However, from a licensing standpoint, Project Lite gives you the rights to use only a subset of functionality of Project Online. These capabilities enable you to view and edit timesheets, manage tasks, add issues and risks, and collaborate on project documents. Similar to Project Online, the subscription to Project Lite gives you access rights to Project Server deployment.

Q: Is Project Online required for using Project Lite?

Yes. You need to have a subscription to Project Online before you can use Project Lite.

Q: What is the benefit of Project Online with Project Pro for Office 365?

By bundling Project Online with Project Pro for Office 365 it enables you to purchase both products in one transaction. However, there is no price discount for purchasing the bundle instead of each product separately.

Q: Does MS Project offer hybrid deployment, i.e. on-premise and cloud?

Yes. If you already have an on-premise deployment of Project Server, it is possible for you to continue to use the on-premise deployment in conjunction with Project Online and Project Lite. Microsoft offers the ability to have a hybrid deployment where the on-premise version can be accessed from Project Online, Project Lite or Project Pro for Office 365.

Q: I am looking for MS Project alternatives. Are there any good resources?

Here is a great resource to check out when considering an alternative to Microsoft Project. 

 

Selecting a MS Project Alternative

As companies consider ease-of-use, real-time collaboration, and the total cost of ownership for the tools they use throughout the enterprise, they are finding the need to explore alternatives to MS Project. Given that a project management tool is one of the essential utilities of many organizations - much like a CRM or HR system - companies are starting to reassess Microsoft Project as the tool of choice. Project managers still require many of the features they’ve come to rely on with MS Project, but must adapt to meet the demands of their employees and of the work environment. Here is a great resource when considering an alternative to Microsoft Project.

One alternative that individuals, teams, and organizations across the world are discovering is Smartsheet. Smartsheet is a cloud-based work and project management tool that is powerful enough for project managers, yet easy enough for anyone to use. Built with the familiar spreadsheet interface, Smartsheet enables people to be more productive than ever. You can create detailed project plans, share content, track progress, and provide clear visibility to internal and external stakeholders no matter where they are located. It’s built for the modern workforce.

Anyone can sign up for a free 30-day trial. Simply import your Microsoft Project file (.mpp, .xml or .mspdi) and start managing your projects in Smartsheet today.
 

Start Managing Projects in Smartsheet
 

If you would like to learn more about using Smartsheet to manage your projects, contact the Smartsheet Team

Discover a more efficient way to manage projects with Smartsheet.

Explore a Simple MS Project Alternative