One executive responsible for Windows licensing, the Software Assurance (SA) maintenance agreement and Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) said Microsoft will revitalize its licensing program later this year to lift some of the restrictions of today's per-device model.
"We will see incremental changes on product use rights, on product use types and on requirements customers can meet to enable more types of users," said Amilcar Alfaro, senior product manager of worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft.
Today, some of the biggest licensing controversies involve virtual desktop technology. IT pros say they believe Microsoft uses its maintenance agreements to curtail adoption of desktop virtualization because users must have SA to access the company's own virtual desktop tools. They also argue that VECD, which is mandatory for anyone who wants to virtualize a Windows client, makes desktop virtualization too expensive.
Virtual desktop tools kept behind the SA wall
Companies with SA on for the client operating system can -- at extra cost -- have access to some of the virtual desktop tools in Microsoft's Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). App-V (formerly SoftGrid) and Med-V (Kidaro) can only be purchased this way. Both will continue to be part of MDOP, however App-V can be obtained through Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services).
Paul DeGroot -- an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm -- estimated that while about half of enterprise customers don't have SA for their clients, they might have it as part of a server or Office suite.
Instead of going through the hassle of upgrading entire desktops, IT shops might like to run applications on an OS that lives in a virtual machine. But Microsoft wants them to move to Windows 7, so it offered an option in Windows 7 called XP mode -- which lets applications that need to run on XP do so on Windows 7.
Whatever IT shops choose to do, the end-user desktop must have an OS to put in the VM or on the desktop, so someone has to get a copy of the OS someplace -- quite possibly through a retail outlet if not through SA.
"Microsoft will get its money one way or the other, but what they are trying to make sure of is that people are still running the desktop OS," DeGroot said.
If you want to virtualize a Windows desktop, you need to have VECD. And though having SA isn't essential to buying VECD, it does make it a lot cheaper. If you have SA and VECD, it will cost $23 per device per year; Without SA, it will cost $110 per device per year.
Microsoft's Alfaro explained that the company breaks virtual desktop licensing into two parts --the license for the Windows client and the license of the Windows infrastructure. VECD only covers the Windows client.
He rejected the assertion that Microsoft's licensing holds back desktop virtualization by making it too expensive. Alfaro said, for example, the rise in cost and complexity depends on the customer's investment in its own infrastructure, such as storage. For many large enterprises, the Windows license is only a small part of the equation, he said.
Although Microsoft will update its per-use device model, the company continues to license per device because right now it's the only way to provide an accurate count of licenses per access point.
"Per user creates more complexity, and a wholesale shift to per-use licensing would be too costly," Alfaro said. "Most customer agreements are constructed around devices."
Therefore, it's likely some kind of hybrid model will come first.
"Some of the changes around the relaxation of use rights to support more flexible rights to allow roaming, and to other devices, will come in this calendar year," he said.