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.