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Microsoft Unfetters Windows Enterprise from Software Assurance

Microsoft recently made available a new Windows Enterprise edition "standalone upgrade" offering that does not require Software Assurance (SA) coverage.

Previously, Microsoft required SA coverage to get the Enterprise edition of Windows, but it's now trying to accommodate customers that don't use annuity contracts, according to an explanation provided by Microsoft to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley.

SA confers product upgrade rights within the contract period, which may be two- or three-year terms. It's also thought that SA increases costs by 25 percent to 29 percent over the software licensing price.

Here is how a Microsoft spokesperson described the changes and the new Windows Enterprise edition standalone upgrade offering, per Foley's account:

We have heard from customers of all sizes who could benefit from being able to use Windows Enterprise and we have responded to that feedback with the availability of Windows Enterprise as a standalone upgrade option. Additionally some customers per internal policy are unable to enter annuity agreements. This change expands the availability of the Enterprise edition to now include these customers. Windows Enterprise will be available as a standalone upgrade SKU in the Open and Select/Select Plus programs beginning March 1, 2014.

Microsoft also made a change to the licensing options available when buying new Windows-based PCs from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Organizations used to be able to purchase a PC using the Windows Professional edition through an OEM and retain an option to upgrade to SA coverage within 90 days. However, Microsoft is retiring that option. PCs bought after July 1 won't have the SA upgrade option, according to the Microsoft spokesperson, as quoted by Foley:

Going forward Windows SA will attach to the Windows Enterprise upgrade meaning that acquiring SA on any OEM Windows Pro license within 90 days of purchase will no longer be applicable as Windows Enterprise is not available through OEM. To help ease this transition for customers who leverage this option, Windows SA may continue to be attached within 90 days to Windows Pro on any new PC acquired before July 1, 2014.

Essentially, the Windows Professional edition with SA product is no longer going to be offered by Microsoft. Organizations can instead buy the Windows Enterprise edition with SA. The price of the two products is the same.

Rob Horwitz, co-founder of the Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consulting company Directions on Microsoft, described this Enterprise edition licensing change as more akin to a name change than anything substantial.

Microsoft didn't publicize this licensing change broadly. The company described it mostly to its large account resellers, so "they quasi-kind of announced it," Horwitz explained, in a phone call on Friday. Apparently, few were buying the Windows Pro with SA product, so the change may not have much of an effect on customers, Horwitz speculated.

The Enterprise edition of Windows includes options that typically might be valued more by larger organizations. For instance, Windows 8.1 Enterprise includes Start Screen customization controls for IT pros, as well as a Windows To Go Creator wizard that can be used to set up imaged desktops on portable USB drives. The Enterprise edition of Windows 8.1 also includes networking support for BranchCache and DirectAccess, as well as "VDI enhancements," according to Microsoft's editions comparison page.

The new standalone Enterprise edition of Windows is listed in Microsoft's March Product List publication, available via this Microsoft licensing page.

For more details, see Horwitz's description of the Enterprise edition licensing changes. In this publicly available Directions on Microsoft document, he outlines the old and new rules.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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