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Microsoft dabbles in per-user Windows licensing

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 15, 2014
But it's still a long way from licensing Windows as a subscription, say experts.

Rather than limit the number of devices able to access VDI, the new licenses allow "any device used by a Licensed User," a change DeGroot called "somewhat more liberal."

"What struck me as strange was that there was no limitation on the number of devices," chimed in Ullman, who had enough difficulty parsing the new rights that he wondered if the new language was, in fact, an oversight. "But Microsoft is pretty sharp, they don't miss anything on licensing."

DeGroot also pointed out that the new user-based licenses removed restrictions on what Microsoft calls "roaming rights," or the ability to access a corporate-managed OS and desktop environment from outside the office walls.

"It would seem to permit someone with this user license to use a home device or any device at work, as long as they met the requirements to be a licensed user," DeGroot asserted.

The user-centric licenses are also more expansive for using "Windows To Go," a right available only for Windows Enterprise with Software Assurance, where a corporate-created image of Windows is put on an USB drive. Plugging the flash drive into another device creates a temporary desktop identical to what employees see on their office machines.

Although Microsoft dropped the label "Windows To Go" from its October licensing layout, the user licenses let workers put images on up to two USB drives, then use them on "any device," rather than limit the functionality to only specifically-licensed devices.

But the big take-away from both Ullman and DeGroot was the added complexity of the license changes, and for Ullman in particular, the potential for major misconceptions and misinterpretations.

"I think this will drive a lot of confusion, because once organizations start discussing Windows Enterprise on a per-user basis, they're going to think of Office 365, and perhaps interpret [Windows Enterprise] as having the same benefits," said Ullman. "I'm not sure that Microsoft hasn't increased the complexity and the possibility of misunderstanding within organizations that could backfire on Microsoft on a compliance level."

The rights assigned to user-based Windows licenses, Ullman stressed, "were not the same as with Office 365."

While the two experts agreed that the user-based licenses would have little impact on how corporations license Windows for use on devices to access VDI, Ullman was more bullish on the potential path Microsoft seemed to unveil.

"This is a step in the right direction, the first step and first take toward Windows on a per-user basis," said Ullman, who pointed out that historically Microsoft makes small-sized moves, then iterates on them.

"We'll see changes as we go forward," Ullman promised.


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