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Will Microsoft get desktop virtualization licensing right in Windows 10?

Windows 10 is still in Tech Preview, and the reviews so far are pretty good. But whether Microsoft will sort out the difficulties around licensing for virtual desktops in the new OS remains to be seen.

It's easy to get all worked up about Windows 10 because Microsoft is saying and doing all the right things.

Microsoft is adding a useful Start menu and is making low-level tweaks to things that only we IT people care about, such as the command prompt. The company is also taking ownership of the fact that it has to provide the best experience for each device type, not bludgeon a desktop computer with Live Tiles until it succumbs.

Microsoft released a Tech Preview of Windows 10 at the beginning of October, and the first experiences with it are very promising. Windows 8 and 8.1 felt weird, but Windows 10 feels more normal. Frankly, Windows 10 feels like the spiritual successor to Windows 7, not a follow up to Windows 8.

What about licensing?

This is all wonderful news, and I'm very optimistic that Microsoft will get it right with Windows 10 on the user-experience level. Some might call it backtracking, but that term is too harsh. It's simply atoning for some rather large mistakes.

But to get businesses to buy Windows 10, specifically in the context of desktop virtualization, Microsoft has to do more: The company has yet to talk about management or licensing. Actually, when you look back at the event where Microsoft announced Windows 10 and the Tech Preview, the company said very little about anything other than a few key features.

I don't expect to hear anything of substance until the next Build conference in 2015, or possibly even "the conference that replaced TechEd and MMS" (which remains nameless as of this writing). There's little doubt in my mind that Microsoft can deliver on the management side, but what about licensing?

For companies that don't do desktop virtualization, the licensing costs are sort of like gas prices. You need gas, so you buy it. Licensing costs are what they are. With licensing for desktop virtualization, we're talking about a complex formula that never comes out to the same answer twice. Here's an incomplete list of aspects of desktop virtualization that affect licensing costs:

  • Who owns the hardware?
  • Where is the hardware?
  • Is the OS running on hardware that also runs OSes from another company?
  • What devices access the virtual desktop?
  • Are they on-premises or off?
  • Are they corporate or privately owned?
  • Are they Windows-based?

The scary thing is that the list above is just for the OS -- licensing for Microsoft applications such as Office can be just as troubling to figure out. 

Getting it right

All signs do point to Microsoft starting to "get it" when it comes to how companies adapt to virtualization and cloud initiatives, however. With CEO Satya Nadella at the helm, things seem to be moving away from the old, "they'll complain, but they'll pay" way of extracting money from companies.

Don't get me wrong -- Microsoft is still MSFT -- the company will get your money, but you won't have to hate yourself for writing that check.

I'm hopeful that this "new Microsoft" that is releasing OSes and cloud services that corporations want to use is also going to address desktop virtualization licensing issues for a new era of corporate computing. At this stage, it's nothing more than surfing the wave of good vibrations after getting a taste of Windows 10. But even during the event, there was talk about how Microsoft wanted to make an OS that could scale from the desktop to Azure.

I think this time Microsoft will get it right, but we'll have to wait another six months to find out for sure.

Next Steps

Can Windows 10 apps increase Windows Phone adoption?

Learn more about how Microsoft licensing rules affect DaaS

Discover how Windows 8 VDI licensing rules impact Windows RT

This was last published in October 2014

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