Windows Software Assurance customers can now license Windows on a per-user basis. I think many admins will welcome this change.
Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

The new licensing option applies to “any device licensed for Windows 7/8/8.1 Pro or Enterprise and any Windows tablet with a diagonal screen size of 10.1 inches or less.”

If you are responsible for managing software licensing in your company, you are at a genuine disadvantage. Even if you have good inventory tools, keeping track of Windows versions for a number of computers in many networks is a nightmare.

User-based licensing isn’t something new. Some institutions have had this option for quite some time. I still remember when we moved from device-based licensing to user-based licensing at my former employer at the University of Munich. Suddenly, the IT department was freed from a real burden. We no longer had to count our Windows machines. All we had to do was ask our personnel department about the number of employees in our organization.

It is interesting to note that the new licensing scheme had an unexpected side effect. The number of machines in our network was suddenly growing significantly higher than the number of employees. It turned out that, when we deployed new machines, many users wanted to keep their old computers for some time. We also had many student workers who didn’t count as employees and who had their own computers. This meant a little more work for the IT department, but it also reduced the pressure to replace malfunctioning machines immediately. Every department had many additional machines in reserve. All admins agreed that user-based licensing brought great relief to IT.

Another interesting thing about this new licensing solution is that it also applies to Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA). Many critics have been accusing Microsoft of hampering the development of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Of course, in a virtual environment, computer-based licensing doesn’t really make sense for end user machines. I doubt that Microsoft really had an interest in keeping VDI small; from its point of view, every machine that runs Windows is a good machine, whether it is a physical or virtual machine. I also doubt that the new licensing scheme will lead to a gold rush in the VDI market. In a cloud-based IT world where apps store all their data in the cloud, VDI has mostly lost its appeal because the access-your-workplace-from-everywhere mantra now works perfectly fine without sluggish virtual desktops.

However, I do believe that user-based licensing will push Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to the next level. Now, admins can always install the latest Windows version on user-owned devices without worrying about licensing. Do you wonder what happens when a user leaves the company? Yeah, we wondered, too, at our former employer. We told users that they must uninstall Windows from their computers after they resigned. Since end users didn’t have admin rights on their computers, they probably didn’t have much choice anyway.

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What do you think about the new licensing option? Will your organization move to user-based licensing?

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