Blog Archive

Windows 10 FAQ and Licensing Video

Windows 10 screenshotThere’s lots of chatter about Windows 10 so we’ve posted a licensing call that we recorded for Microsoft which sets out the fundamentals of how Windows as a service will work, the editions of Windows 10, licensing Windows per-user instead of per-device and how customers can get the Windows 10 upgrade.

You can also read our earlier blog posts on Never Pay for Windows Again and How to Upgrade to Windows 10.

Some important highlights:

1 – Windows will be an evergreen service and devices on Windows Home and Pro will have Windows updated at no ongoing cost.

2 – Windows Home will be on what’s known as Current Branch which means those machines will get feature updates as soon as they’re released.

3 – Windows Pro and Windows Enterprise with Software Assurance (SA) will default to Current Branch but can be set to Current Branch for Business which allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months.  If updates are not deployed within that time, the OS will become unsupported.

4 – Windows Enterprise is the only edition where customers can fix on a specific release (known as a Long Term Servicing Branch).

5 – Windows Enterprise without Software Assurance (SA) will NOT BE UPDATED.  The update facility (Current Branch or Current Branch for Business) is a Software Assurance benefit for Enterprise edition, not part of the Windows licence.  So Windows will only be kept up to date for Enterprise edition customers if they maintain their SA annuity.

6 – Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 devices can be upgraded at no cost for 1 year after the release of Windows 10.  Windows Enterprise is not eligible for this free upgrade.

7 – The upgrade licence is tied to the specific device and is not transferable.  For example if you bought Windows 8 retail, that can be transferred to another pc but the Windows 10 upgrade cannot be transferred.  Within the first year, you would need to transfer the Windows 8 licence to the new machine and then kick off the free upgrade again.  After the first year, if the new machine didn’t come with an OEM Window 10 then you would need to buy Windows 10 in order to install it on that device.

8- There will be downgrade rights so if you buy a device with Windows 10 you will be able to deploy Windows 8 or 7 in its place.  This varies according to the channel you purchase through.

9- We’d love to get some more questions so please contact us if you have any that you’d like us to answer.

 

 


Windows 10 – How to Upgrade

Windows 8.1Microsoft would quite like to get a billion devices onto Windows 10 so if you could help they would appreciate it.

You’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about Windows 10 being a free upgrade and for many customers that will be true for the first year.  Microsoft has a Windows 10 free upgrade program geared toward consumers, however many SMBs will also take advantage of it.  That’s fine; if their devices will run windows 10 then Microsoft are happy for them to do that.  Microsoft will offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified new or existing Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the first year.  After 1 year, you’ll need to buy a full-packaged product (FPP) or volume licence to install Windows 10.

There are things to be aware of for the upgrade so please read about the Windows 10 upgrade specifications.

Windows 10 upgrade paths

 

What do you notice from this eligibility list?  Windows Enterprise editions and Windows RT are specifically excluded.

Windows RT is likely being replaced with Windows 10 mobile edition anyway so more will become known on that in the next few months.  Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 Enterprise edition are not eligible for the free upgrade offer so how would those customers acquire Windows 10?

Customers with Software Assurance (SA) on their Windows licences have rights to Windows 10 Enterprise through the software assurance new version rights benefit.

In the days when you acquired Windows Enterprise by buying Windows Pro + SA, your underlying licence was Pro but even if you stopped SA you could retain perpetual rights to enterprise.  In this case you could revert to Pro edition and go for the free upgrade.  That does involve a reinstall though so not a nice option.

Or you could buy Windows 10 Enterprise + SA all over again.  Possibly not an option which will be greeted by cheers.

Or you could go for Windows 10 Enterprise without SA and stick with the Long Term Service Branch.

Limitations with the Upgrade

The Windows 10 licence created during the upgrade is a consumer licence that is tied to the device.  The licence will continue to work for reinstalling Windows 10 after the free upgrade period ends but only on that specific device.  so if you need to replace the hard drive or do a reinstall for any reason other than replacing the motherboard, it will work.

For volume licensing customers, the licence created is not a Volume Licence (VL) and will not be in VLSC (Volume Licensing Service Centre).  Whilst there won’t be any differences in the end-user experience between the free upgrade and a new VL purchase of Windows 10, the licence is different.  If you buy Windows 10 Pro through VL, you could not use the image or keys from the VLSC to apply the upgrade for free to other, unlicenced machines.  At present the Windows 10 Pro Upgrade licenses will be priced the same as the existing Windows 8.1 Pro Upgrade licences in case you do want to buy the full edition.

A couple of last points; even though customers on Windows 8 will get a lot of nudges to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft will not force people to upgrade.  They can remain on Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 and the support lifecycle for those remains in place.

Education customers have the same criteria.  Upgrade goes by the eligibility of the device and installed operating system; nothing special or limited for education.

See part 2 of this blog post for information on how Windows 10 is becoming an evergreen service.


Never Pay for Windows 10 Again

Windows 8.1

Will Windows 10 be the last ever version?  Is Windows 10 going to be free?  Can you plan a surprise birthday party for a psychic?  Well, let’s tackle the first question here and the second question in our how to upgrade to Windows 10 blog post.

Never Pay for Windows Again

Currently, you might buy a pc and it will come with Windows preinstalled.  You’ve paid for the OEM (original Equipment Manufacturer) licence of Windows.  You’ll get feature updates and security patches from time to time and you can choose to install them or hide them.  It’s up to you (or you organisation’s IT policy).

With Windows 10, you won’t have a choice.  Windows updates will be applied when they’re ready.  So in a way, Windows 10 will be the last version because you will never have to pay for the next version of the client OS on the same pc; new features will just be installed.  If you need to buy a new machine, you’ll pay for the OEM licence as part of the pc’s purchase price and then Windows will just be kept up to date for the lifetime of the device.

You may be concentrating on the negative here that you won’t get a choice and must install new features.  Think about two huge positives though:

  1. you never need to pay for Windows again on the same machine and you’ll always have the latest version
  2. Software vendors and developers can almost guarantee that 90% of Windows users will have the same build

The second point there should make you smile if your pc has ever crashed or you’ve needed to phone support because an application isn’t working.  There are so many combinations of OS, patches, drivers, runtime files and versions around that reliability and consistency are devilishly hard to achieve.  Applications and peripherals should work far better if the manufacturers and developers can work to a stable and single platform.  Sounds a bit Apple-like doesn’t it?

Why is Windows Becoming a Service?

The world of software is changing to cloud aka software as a service.  With that change comes different release cadences.  If you’ve been in IT for a while you’ll be familiar with the terms 3.5 inch floppy, modem and three-year release cycles.  Office 365 has a monthly release cadence.  Azure enjoys weekly updates.  This is the way of the world; goodbye versions and hello evergreen services.  Innovation has become faster and users expect new features quicker.

What if I Don’t Want to Automatically Install Updates?

Microsoft thinks Windows 10 is going to have three demarcations of users: consumers, business users and mission-critical business systems.  For each type there is something known as a ‘branch’.

Windows 10 update Branches

 

Consumers will be subject to the Current Branch and will receive Windows updates as they are released.  Of course, they will have gone through extensive testing via engineering builds, internal testing, early adopters and the Windows Insider program beforehand so several millions of users will already have installed these updates.

Business Users will default to Current Branch but have the option to select Current Branch for Business (CBB).  This allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months after they’re released to the Current Branch.  This provides ample time for testing, compatibility work and fixes and just to wait and see how the hundreds of millions of Current Branch users get on with the updates.  The updates can be deferred but they will need to be installed within that eight-month timeframe.  Organisations will be able to control and manage how updates (including critical and security updates) are deployed using tools such as System Centre Configuration Manager, Windows Server Update Services or a new Windows 10 service called Windows Update for Business.

Mission-critical systems such as medical, aviation, etc. have the option to deploy point-in-time releases known as Long Term Service Branch (LTSB).  These will not be updated with new features but will have security and critical updates although the organisation can manage and control the distribution of these updates.  LTSB releases will be supported for at least 5 years (10 years if the customers has software assurance).  New LTSB releases will be made available every two-three years and customers will have the option whether to install them or not.

In short, if you don’t want to receive Windows OS updates, you will need to be on the LTSB and that requires certain Windows editions.

Long Term Service Branch is only Available for Windows Enterprise edition

Windows 10 editions and update branches

 

Windows Home edition must be on Current Branch.  Windows Pro can be on either Current Branch or Current Branch for Business.  This means that both of these editions will be updated (CBB allows the updates to be deferred but only for up to 8 months).

Windows Enterprise edition is available with or without software assurance.  Windows Enterprise without SA allows the customer to deploy a point-in-time LTSB release, or previous ones (downgrade rights in other words) and for that release to still be supported for 5 years.  Windows Enterprise edition with SA also gives customers the rights to new LTSB release when they become available (every 2-3 years).  They can choose whether to install new releases or not.  SA also means the customer gains extended support so their chosen release will be supported for 10 years.

One important point to note is that Enterprise edition without SA will not enjoy updates on Current Branch either.  Customers with Home and Pro editions will always get the latest features for the life of the device.  Enterprise edition without SA will not.  The release that’s installed will eventually become out of date and the customer will need to buy a licence again to update.

Windows 10 Enterprise Edition with SA is available through all Microsoft Volume Licensing Programs (Open, Open Value, Select+, MPSA, EA, etc.)


Save the Photographs!

My wife takes digital photos and downloads them onto her laptop.  Then she deletes them from the camera.  If you have ever taken a hard-drive apart, on those rainy days to avoid doing dull IT tasks, you’ll know how fragile they are.  Lots of memories on those small platters of film.  No matter how many external hard drives I buy, or funny-shaped USB sticks to persuade her to back up her files, she never does.  So it’s with great anticipation that Microsoft Azure Backup Vaults now support Windows client OS (Windows 7 and Windows 8) as well as Windows Server.

Windows Client backup to Azure

 

If you’re a techie, you might be thinking why didn’t I set up a home active directory domain on an HP Microserver, back-up the client devices that log-on, including my wife’s laptop, and then back the server and thus the client files up to Azure?  Well, I did but the big blue light on the front on the Microserver started to annoy me at night because it was really bright so I keep turning it off and that’s not really a good infrastructure decision.

Let’s walk through how to set your home pc to back-up to the Azure cloudy goodness.  A couple of basics first; you will need an Azure subscription and this back-up solution will cost you money.  However, backups are compressed, encrypted, triple-replicated inside Microsoft’s datacenters and once you’ve set up your back-up schedule, it’s automatic.  And think of your photographic memories safe and sound (although of course you should periodically test your recovery processes as well).

Log onto www.azure.com and go to the Azure portal.  Select Recovery Services and create a new Backup Vault.  Once you have your vault, the dashboard will show you the next steps to take.

Azure backup vault dashboard

 

The client machine needs to register with the Azure Backup Vault.  A few months ago this required creating a certificate but now Azure simply provides a credentials file to download and save onto your local machine.  Next, download the Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent onto the local pc and run it.  The Azure portal provides two options for the backup agent; pick the first option (Windows Server or System Center Data Protection Manager or Windows Client).  The setup wizard is going to ask about proxy settings and will also download the pre-requisites but typically on a home network, you’ll be able to breeze through accepting the defaults.

Azure backup agent installation

 

Azure backup agent installation

 

Azure backup agent installation

 

The final step allows you to Proceed to Registration (or you can Close the setup but if you’re ready to schedule the backup, you may as well proceed to register your pc with the backup vault).  The backup agent will ask for the vault credentials file that you downloaded and then you’ll need to specify a passphrase.  This will be used for encrypting the data before transfer to Azure.  Note the data is encrypted on the client device and stored in Azure encrypted.  Microsoft do not hold the passphrase so it’s vital this is kept safe and secure otherwise you’ll only be able to restore encrypted data.  In fact, the agent will not let you proceed to the next step until the passphrase is saved to another location.

Azure backup agent

Once you’ve registered the server (the agent still refers to your client pc as a server; can’t change everything overnight), the Azure Backup app will be started and you can set your backup schedule.

Azure backup app

The wizard is pretty straight-forward to navigate; you select the items from you local pc to backup (note that Azure will only backup the data that changes after the initial backup).

Azure backup app

The next step is to set up the frequency of the backup, i.e. when it will run, and how long Azure will retain the backups for.  A recent change was the increase of the maximum retention period to 3,360 days; essentially about 9 years so this is an archiving solution as well as a disaster recovery.  However, remember your costs.  Even though Azure backup will compress the data before storage, the more backups you keep, the more storage you’ll use and the higher the monthly cost.  There’s also a limit of 120 recovery points so you may need to balance the frequency with the retention range or you’ll get an error message when you hit the Next button.  For example, the screenshot below is trying to backup once a week and keep these recovery points for 9 years which would easily exceed 120 points.  However, if I set the frequency to monthly (4 weekly to be exact), I’d be fine.

Azure backup app

There’s also a size limit of 1700GB per volume to each backup operation (so if you’re backing up files from multiple drives, you have around 1.7TB from each).  You can stop the backup or change the items to backup and then schedule by clicking Schedule Backup in the main Azure Backup application window.

Recovering items is also straightforward; you can specify the recovery point (date) to restore from and which items you want to restore.  You can also restore these items to the original location or a new location.

Back in the Azure portal, you can see the registered server (or in this case client pc) and also view the protected items and the recovery points.  You can register up to 50 machines against each backup vault and as of December 2014, you can have up to 25 backup vaults per Azure subscription.

Azure backup protected items

And just as a final part to this blog, we have to thanks one of our trainers, Thomas Lee who scored this coup by asking nicely for it!


Windows Per-User Licensing

We recently wrote a blog for Microsoft explaining the new Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS).  ECS includes a licence called Windows SA per-user.  You can read the post on the Microsoft UK Volume Licensing site.  In this post, I want to delve a little deeper into how Windows licensing can work on a per-user basis.

Windows and Office have historically been licenced per-device; the machine you use these on had to have a licence.  Software Assurance provided a little bit of flexibility by allowing roaming rights in which the primary user of a licenced device could access the software from outside of the work domain (e.g. at home).  However, mobility is the new norm.  People work on lots of devices and in lots of locations and licensing software per-device is very limiting in these instances.  Office 365 has seen enormous success with per-user licensing (overtaking the number of seats of traditional Office 2013) and Windows 8.1 can now also offer a similar flexibility.

Let’s cover some facts first:

  1. Per-device licensing is not going away and there are myriad cases where it’s preferable; for example libraries, hospitals, warehouses, etc. where many people use the same device.
  2. Office 365 allows 5 local installations of the full Office applications for the licensed user.  Windows per-user allows the user to install Windows 8.1 on an unlimited number of devices for their own use, subject to some pre-requisites which I’ll detail in this blog post.
  3. Windows per-user is not a cloud based service like Office 365.  It can therefore enjoy downgrade rights so the user could install Windows 7 in place of Windows 8.1 for example.
  4. Windows per-user is a subscription licence.  If the subscription is not continued, the licence expires and Windows must be uninstalled.  Whether there’s a mechanism to check for the subscription and remove functionality as there is with Office 365, I don’t know at the moment.
  5. Windows per-user is only available through Enterprise Agreements at the moment so it’s not a case of popping to PC World and buying Windows 8.1 per-user I’m afraid.

I’ll start by looking at some current scenarios.  That will highlight some limitations which ECS can address.

Windows 8.1 is licenced per-device.

Anyone at all can use Windows on the device, anywhere at all (e.g. at work or at home).  It helps to have the device-owner’s permission but that’s just politeness and not a licensing requirement.

Windows 8.1 licenced per device

Running Windows 8.1 virtually.

Many organisations utilise virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) whereby the client OS is not locally installed on the licenced device but stored on a network server and then remotely accessed by the user.  If the Windows 8.1 licence for the device includes Software Assurance (SA), these virtual rights, known as Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) come as a benefit of the SA.  In this way, a user can access a virtual Windows desktop through VDI from a licenced Windows device.  This is fairly simple if the device is corporate-owned, for example, a laptop provided by the company for the user.  If the user wants to use their own (or a 3rd party) device to access their virtual Windows desktop, SA provides roaming rights to the primary user so they can access their desktop from outside work but 3rd party devices cannot be used to access virtual Windows desktops from within the corporate network, i.e. at work.  The primary user is defined as being the person who uses a pc for more than half the time in any 90-day period.  Let’s mention a few scenarios: the user can use their main work desktop pc whilst in the office; they can also access a virtual Windows desktop from their personal pc at home using VDI; they could also use a corporate laptop to access a virtual Windows desktop both at work and outside work (as long as the laptop is also licenced for Windows); they could not however bring their personal devices into work and access a virtual Windows desktop.  I can sense you’re frowning so time for an illustration.

Windows 8.1 VDI licensing scenarios

In summary:

  1. Anyone can use Windows 8.1 locally on a licenced device, anywhere, no matter who owns the device.
  2. To use Windows virtually, the user must be a primary user of a device licenced with Windows 8.1 + SA and furthermore if the device on which the virtual desktop is being accessed is not owned by the company with the Windows 8.1 SA licence, it must be used outside the workplace.

Windows 8.1 licenced per-user still requires a licenced device.

Windows per-user isn’t exactly a case of licensing a user.  The user must already be the primary user of a device already licenced with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Pro.  Then that user is eligible to be licenced for Windows 8.1 per-user.  What if the user doesn’t have a primary device that is already licenced with Windows Pro?  There is an alternative called Windows VDA per-user which negates the requirement for a licenced device but as you can imagine is priced higher because Microsoft can’t count on the underlying Windows licence.  So we end up with two choices: Windows SA per-user or Windows VDA per-user.

Ways to obtain Windows per-user

Whichever way you choose, the licensing benefits are the same.  Firstly, it gets around the ‘cannot bring a 3rd party device into work and access Windows’ restriction.  Secondly it allows the licenced user to install Windows 8.1 onto any number of devices.  Yes, that’s pretty generous isn’t it?  I mentioned in the facts at the start of this post there are some pre-requisites and the condition for installing Windows is that on devices with a screen size of 10.1″ and above, there must already be a Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro licence.  Even if the device already has a Windows 8.1 Pro licence, Windows per-user allows you to install Windows 8.1 Enterprise and you can access virtual Windows desktops from inside and outside work.  Time for a final illustration.

Running Windows when licenced per-user

That’s a lot of green and green is good unless we’re drinking milk.  The only red is that you cannot install Windows 8.1 on an iPhone, iPad or Android device but you can run it virtually.

In summary, there are still a few things to bear in mind, for example underlying Windows device licences don’t quite go away in most cases, but licensing Windows for a user gives enormous flexibility in allowing people to work wherever they are, whatever the device is and whoever it’s owned by.


Easiest way to MCSA?

Perhaps you’re looking for a new job and you want to refresh your certification.  Perhaps you’re hiring new staff and want to skill them up quickly or meet targets to earn a Microsoft Partner Competency.  What’s the easiest way to earn a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) accreditation?

Easy is the wrong word here.  None of these exams are easy; they exist to test and prove your experience and knowledge in a topic.  MCSA is also the prerequisite to earn the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert accreditations which really are the pinnacle of Microsoft certifications.

However the fastest route to earn an MCSA, assuming you’re not upgrading an earlier qualification,  is to work towards either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 MCSA or towards the Office 365 MCSA.  Each of these routes only require you to take two exams from scratch.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate Map

 

Your choice should clearly depend on your IT career path and the skills you’re going to need.  If you are open to all areas though, of those three MCSA options, we’d advise the Office 365 MCSA.  Firstly there is only one 5-day course whereas Windows MCSA involves two 5-day courses and thus more time out of the office and more cost.  Attending a course is not required to take an exam but it’s a great way to maximise your chances.  Secondly, the Office 365 MCSA can be used as the foundation to gain the MCSE qualification in Desktop Infrastructure, Server Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Messaging, Communications or SharePoint.  The Windows MCSA does not have an MCSE route.

Of course, we’d love to help you gain nay Microsoft qualification so please get in touch and see how we can help.

 


IE Auto-Scaling Annoys Me

Like many people, I work on multiple monitors.  Take now for example; I’m writing this blog post on my main monitor and Jeremy Kyle is playing in Internet Explorer on the second monitor (is he the father and the brother?  Who really cares?).

My monitors are set to different resolutions and when I drag an Internet Explorer window from my main monitor to the second monitor, it automatically scales to 150% which makes it unusable.  This ‘helpful’ behaviour is actually extremely annoying to me but there is an easy way to prevent this from happening.

Right click your desktop and select Screen Resolution.  Click Make text and other items larger or smaller and then check the box for Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays.

Stop Internet Explorer auto scaling

 

You may need to sign out of Windows and back in again for some bizarre reason but that should solve the issue.

Now, back to Jeremy Kyle, “My teenage son picks his nose too much”.


Windows 8.1 Enterprise without SA

Windows 8.1

Historically Windows Enterprise edition was only available by attaching Software Assurance (SA) to Windows Professional edition.  The Enterprise edition was never directly listed on the pricelist or listed as an OEM product.  From the 1st March 2014, Windows 8.1 Enterprise is now on the pricelist without needing to pay the recurring Software Assurance annuity.  For volume licensing (VL), this only affects Open and Select Plus programs because all the other VL programs include SA.

Customers who buy through the Open or Select Plus programs can therefore save some money and still get the benefits of Windows 8.1 Enterprise.  What’s the difference between Windows 8.1 Enterprise licence only and Windows 8.1 Enterprise with SA?

We’ll describe Software Assurance in more detail in a forthcoming blog but in a nutshell, you get all the extra technologies with Enterprise but none of the licence modifications that are required to enjoy those technical benefits.  The technical benefits for Windows 8.1 Enterprise include Windows To Go creator, Start screen control, DirectAccess, BranchCache, AppLocker, Virtual Desktop infrastructure (VDI) enhancements and Enterprise Sideloading.  However you’ll still need SA to modify the licence rights to take advantage of VDI or Windows To Go.  So you won’t be able to fully utilise Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) without SA.  VDA is the ability to store the client operating systems on a server instead of directly on the desktop pc or laptop so the user can use any licensed device to access their Windows desktop.  A form of thin client computing which gives IT much more control over the deployments.

This volume licensing brief provides further detail.

Both Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise through VL are still upgrades and they require a qualifying underlying operating system.  Also customers will be able to add SA onto Windows 8.1 Pro OEM licences up until July 1, 2014.  The brief actually says the PC needs to have been purchased before July 1st but of course customers should be ok to add SA up to 90 days afterwards.


Microsoft Presales Technical Accreditation for Small Business

We are running a series of evening events for Microsoft called Technights.  These are across the UK and offer a great chance to meet and discuss with Microsoft representatives as well as other partners.  We’ll cover Windows 8.1, Office 365, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Azure and Windows Intune in a format which encourages questions and discussion.  The event also prepares you to take the new Small Business Presales Technical Assessment.

See here for details of the schedule and how to register.

You can also download the content below.

PST Small Business v1