Stay on Top of Recent Windows Licensing Changes

Sleeper Updates May Affect Your Organization Sleeper Updates May Affect Your Organization

by James Nagurney

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There have recently been some quiet but important licensing changes to Windows. They’re not going to change your life, but they’re definitely worth knowing more about. If staying on top of your Windows licensing situation is important to you—and it should be—read on.

First, Microsoft is now making Windows Enterprise available as a standalone purchase. Therefore, as of March 1, 2014, you can buy Windows Enterprise without Software Assurance (SA). Active SA, however, will still give you the rights to run Enterprise. In fact, all “Windows Pro Upgrade with SA” skus have been removed from the March price list and replaced with “Windows Enterprise Upgrade with SA”. Upon hearing this, my first thought was, “Okay, is there a price increase baked in there as well?” Happily, I can say that there is no price increase for any existing products. However, the new Windows Enterprise Upgrade license without SA is about 60% more expensive than Pro (coming in around $264 per device under a Select Plus Agreement).

What does this mean for you? If you are an EA customer or regularly keep SA on your Windows licenses to capture the Enterprise version, it shouldn’t mean too much. Your renewal costs are no different than they would have been without this change. And we still recommend keeping active Software Assurance on the license in order to retain the right to transfer the Enterprise software from one machine to another. (For those of you unfamiliar with this rule, technically a Windows Upgrade license cannot be transferred from one machine to another—only SA can be transferred and therefore the Windows Enterprise entitlement. Moreover, the SA can only be transferred to a machine that is already entitled to run the current Windows version. Without SA, your Windows Enterprise license essentially acts like an OEM license which lives and dies on the machine. In the event of a hardware refresh, if there is no SA to transfer, you would have to buy a brand new Windows Enterprise Upgrade license for the new machine or use the Pro edition that comes pre-installed on the machine).

The second part of the March 1st announcement that we find to be a particularly radical change is the rule for adding SA to OEM machines. In the past, for each new system purchased Microsoft gave you a 90-day grace period to add SA to the license and effectively change it from an OEM to a volume license. The SA also of course gave you the rights to deploy Windows Enterprise. As you can see from the excerpt below (from Microsoft’s March 1st Product List), as of July 1st you will need to purchase the Windows Enterprise Upgrade license with SA. Basically, Microsoft will no longer be allowing OEM grandfathering—a new OEM license must be treated as a regular Windows Upgrade.

Another quick note about Windows licensing: only Windows upgrade licenses are available through volume licensing. In other words, Microsoft is assuming that your device came pre-installed with an OEM version of Windows on it. This means that Windows licenses acquired via EA, Select, Open, or Open Value may not be applied to white boxes or any other device that does not already include a full-blown operating system. In fact, Microsoft is very specific about what you may upgrade from. There’s a complete chart below, but in a nutshell, corporate customers may not upgrade to Windows Pro or Enterprise from Windows Home or embedded versions or from Linux. Any system with a Home edition of Windows or Linux may only move to Windows Pro via retail box product. (You will notice that Mac does qualify for a Windows upgrade license.)

Microsoft doesn’t make it easy on any of us, huh? Anyway, for more information, you can always contact your Microsoft Licensing specialist.

The qualifying operating systems by Program type are:

* Applies to Windows 8.1 only.

**CW – Company Wide

Any operating system not listed above is not a qualifying OS, for example:

  • Embedded Systems (e.g. Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Pro, Windows XP Embedded) do not qualify for the Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise Upgrades.
  • Linux or OS/2 do not qualify for the Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise Upgrades.
  • RDS Client Access License does not qualify for the Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise Upgrades.


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