Why you still need to care about software licensing

The cloud hasn't done away with software licensing problems. Neither Office nor Windows 10 is actually free, for example, and you can end up in court for using Photoshop and WinZip without a license. Here’s what you need to know.

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Microsoft is also still working to define what "the supported lifetime of the device" means. It has clearly documented support lifecycles for operating systems, but OEMs have much shorter support cycles, which makes it hard to find out how long a particular model will be supported for.

You might not be concerned about whether you'll get OEM graphics driver updates in five years’ time, but if you're relying on Windows 10 updates on a business PC through an OEM, you need to know how long that’ll go on for. That means that even for consumer devices that users are bringing to work, you will still have to think about volume licensing, including VDA licenses that cover devices (like iPads) to get remote access to Windows desktop applications.

The new Windows Enterprise Software Assurance User Subscription Licenses let you license Windows for your users without counting their devices. They use virtual desktops and put Windows Enterprise on any of their devices as long as the screen is no bigger than 10.1 inches. You assign them a primary device that runs Windows 7 or 8 because, as usual, SA is an upgrade from a Windows license that’s already been paid for. As the name suggests, this is a subscription you have to keep paying for.

Back at the Office

Things are even more complicated for Office, especially as the promised touch Office apps finally arrive on Windows tablets, with Windows 10 on some devices. But just because the Office apps come free on a device or can be downloaded free from an app store—like the versions of Office already available for iPad and Android—it doesn’t mean they're free to use for business.

The apps won’t stop users from opening and editing documents or creating new ones. But unless you have the appropriate Office licenses for those users, they’ll be breaking the license agreement if they do that for business documents.

These might include a license for an Office 365 tenant like E3, which includes the client software, an Office 365 Pro Plus license or Software Assurance in your Office volume license. It won’t include the Office 365 Home Premium license users could buy (and try putting on their expense claim) from inside Office for iPad.

Microsoft solved that problem for Windows RT, which came with a touch version of Office Home and Student that didn’t have commercial use rights, by including those use rights in Office 2013 volume licensing. And at the end of 2014, it introduced the Enterprise Cloud Suite, which includes Office 365 Enterprise E3, per-user Windows Enterprise SA subscriptions and the Enterprise Mobility Suite (Intune or System Center Configuration Manager client manage, Azure Rights Management Services for protecting shared documents and Azure Active Directory Premium, which gives you tools like single sign-on, two factor authentication and security reports), all in one agreement.

If you’ve mastered all that, prepare to prove it when you get audited. Alternatively, if you’re prepared to get the ISO certification in software asset management, you can also get certified by BSA. The advantage of that is you’ll get a two-year holiday from audits by BSA members. That’s a laundry list of enterprise vendors, from Adobe, Apple and Autodesk to Microsoft and Symantec, so it would have kept Forever 21 out of court.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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