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Why you still need to care about software licensing

Mary Branscombe | March 13, 2015
Microsoft might promise free upgrades for Windows and simplify its volume licensing with a new agreement, but the influx of cloud services, new devices and mobile apps means software licensing continues to be complex. A recent lawsuit should remind you that you can't afford to lose track of what software your company is using.

But if users are downloading cracked software and installing it on their computers, it often brings malware along with it. And too many times even a legitimate copy of the software that's installed may not get security updates, so it won't be as licensed copies. BSA commissioned a study from IDC to look at malware on PCs that shows a correlation between the amount of unlicensed software in a country and the amount of malware on their PCs.

Bring your own license problem

Pirated software and over installing is obvious when you look for it. But what about the licensing impact of the tablets and smartphones that users bring to work? BYOD, mobile devices and even cloud services make licensing more complex and confusing.

"Most companies aren't trying to cut corners," admits Kelley. "They're struggling with the complexities."

So when Microsoft announced in January that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for the first year, it quickly emerged that there would be the usual licensing small print. The free upgrade is only for the base Windows 10 edition and the basic business version, Windows 10 Pro. If you have Windows Enterprise and a volume license, you'll need to pay for an upgrade or take out the usual Software Assurance subscription to get the new version.

Microsoft is also still working to define what "the supported lifetime of the device" means. It has clearly documented support lifecycles for operating systems, but OEMs have much shorter support cycles, which makes it hard to find out how long a particular model will be supported for.

You might not be concerned about whether you'll get OEM graphics driver updates in five years' time, but if you're relying on Windows 10 updates on a business PC through an OEM, you need to know how long that'll go on for. That means that even for consumer devices that users are bringing to work, you will still have to think about volume licensing, including VDA licenses that cover devices (like iPads) to get remote access to Windows desktop applications.

The new Windows Enterprise Software Assurance User Subscription Licenses let you license Windows for your users without counting their devices. They use virtual desktops and put Windows Enterprise on any of their devices as long as the screen is no bigger than 10.1 inches. You assign them a primary device that runs Windows 7 or 8 because, as usual, SA is an upgrade from a Windows license that's already been paid for. As the name suggests, this is a subscription you have to keep paying for.

Back at the Office

Things are even more complicated for Office, especially as the promised touch Office apps finally arrive on Windows tablets, with Windows 10 on some devices. But just because the Office apps come free on a device or can be downloaded free from an app store — like the versions of Office already available for iPad and Android — it doesn't mean they're free to use for business.


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