At last! Microsoft fixes Windows VDI licensing

Microsoft has finally changed its licensing model for VDI from per device to per user. This will save your shop some cash, and it's a serious win for Microsoft customers.

Microsoft made two big announcements earlier this week with regards to licensing. One of them directly affects us, and the other only appears to.

The latter is that Windows 7 and Windows 8 are no longer available through retail channels. It sounds like a big deal, but it really just means you can't walk into Best Buy and pick up a copy after they sell out of existing stocks. Microsoft will continue to activate licenses and support the operating systems until their end-of-life dates (Jan. 14, 2020 for Windows 7; Jan. 10, 2023 for Windows 8), so if you're running them, you're fine.  The move is simply an effort to make sure the shelves will be clear when Windows 10 comes around next year.

The big news, though, is that for the first time ever, Microsoft has taken the path of allowing Windows licenses to be assigned to the user instead of the device.

If you run a VDI platform in your company or have even considered implementing one, you know that the cost of Windows licensing is substantial. In anything but the most Microsoft-centric scenario --  where you support Surface tablets, have Software Assurance (SA) and run full Windows clients -- you had to pay $100 per device (not per user) to access Windows VDI desktops. It's an antiquated policy, and the community has been lobbying hard for Microsoft to fix it for some time.

People got around this by installing Windows Server as the VDI desktop operating system, effectively creating a single-user Remote Desktop Session Host server. This solution worked really well (except on a few apps that for some reason check to see if they're running on a server OS), and cost significantly less than running the desktop OS equivalent. Still, it was an unnecessary hoop to jump through.

Customers win ... sort of

That's all over now that SA will be offered on a per user basis, as opposed to per-device, which is how it should have always been. It means that you only need to buy a Windows license once for each of your users, regardless of how many devices they use to access their VDI desktop. We won!

Well, maybe. We still don't know how much this will all cost. It could be that the per-user license is substantially more expensive than the per-device license. A little more is probably acceptable (we’re used to price increases), but if Microsoft just rolls the cost of Companion Device Licenses and a couple of Virtual Desktop Access connections into the price of SA, it could be prohibitive.

No doubt this paves the way for future per-user licensing plans from Microsoft. Office 365 is already licensed per user, though on a monthly "rental" basis. It stands to reason that Microsoft will be heading in this direction with Windows, as well as part of a larger desktop as a service (DaaS) offering around the launch of Windows 10 next year.

More has to change for a DaaS offering though, such as multi-tenant licensing, which allows instances of Windows from multiple companies to be run on the same hardware.  If and when that is allowed, DaaS providers can achieve much higher levels of density and availability for desktop OSes than ever before, making the entire concept more appealing.

That's in the future, though, and we should really just be concentrating on today. Microsoft did us all a favor and fixed what I believe to be one of the biggest problems in desktop virtualization today. Yes, they should have done it a long time ago, but that was the old Microsoft. Let's see what they do next. And let’s face it, even if it is more expensive than the per-device license, it’s still much simpler to figure out what your licensing costs will be.

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