• Insights

Demystifying the New Windows 10 Licensing Options

Chris Owens

3 min read

All Insights

With the arrival of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft has released a host of new licensing options for companies to consider as they look to implement the new operating system. All apply to the Windows 10 Enterprise edition, all are called Windows Enterprise E3, but there remain plenty of differences. Let’s go through each of the options.

Windows 10 Enterprise E3 – Per Device

The last part here is the most important–“per device.”  This license mirrors the legacy “upgrade + Software Assurance” perpetual license that Microsoft offered in the past. It lets you “upgrade” your Windows Pro OEM license, purchased for a workstation, to Windows Enterprise, and includes all of the benefits of Software Assurance like rights to new versions, the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), and lesser known benefits such as Windows To Go and the Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) usage rights.

Because this is simply a name change to an existing SKU, the pricing is similar and it falls into the normal Volume Licensing programs, allowing it to be purchased with three years of Software Assurance outright or over an annual annuity payment.

Beyond the Software Assurance benefit, the key detail is that it is an upgrade license that can be applied to Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or 10 Pro OEM systems. No, you cannot buy Linux or Windows Home edition with the PC and then use this license to gain access to Enterprise. You must own some version of Windows Pro.

Windows 10 Enterprise E3 – Per User

A similar name and a subtle difference but the consequences are fairly drastic. The first is that this is a subscription license, not a perpetual license like the one described above. As long as you continue to pay, you continue to enjoy the benefits of Windows 10 Enterprise such as DirectAccess, Credential Guard, and Device Guard. If you were to stop paying for your subscription, the operating system would automatically revert to Windows 10 Pro. Those features would be disabled, so you would be in essence “renting” the Enterprise license on a month-to-month basis.

In addition, there is no Software Assurance attributed to a subscription license, but that does not mean it is simply “built-in.” In contrast, the rights to the MDOP suite and VDA are missing from this SKU. It is important to note that some tools formerly included in MDOP, namely User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) and Application Virtualization (App-V), have now been included in Windows 10 Enterprise. Those particular MDOP tools are still available.

In addition, unlike the Per Device license, the Per User only upgrades a Windows 10 Pro OEM instance. You can only apply it to a machine already running the Anniversary (1607) update. This further complicates the deployment methodology compared to the traditional “wipe and reload” scheme that still applies for the Per Device licensing.

Lastly, since this is a subscription SKU, there is an option to pay month-to-month, along with the annual or three-year upfront payments, which allow you to spread the costs over a longer duration. It’s also an option to migrate to the E5 SKU, which adds the cloud-based Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection monitoring tool – an option that exists only for Enterprise Agreement customers in the Per Device world.

So, how does one choose between these options. The Per User E3 SKU is significantly cheaper (roughly 40%) and offers a more favorable month-to-month payment plan, but it is missing the MDOP features like the Microsoft BitLocker Administration and Monitoring (MBAM), Advance Group Policy Management (AGPM), and Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT) technologies. The Per Device is pretty much the status quo, at a price premium. Ultimately, I see three key questions to answer before you decide.

  • Are you buying new machines or do any repurposed machines have an OEM license older than Windows 10 Pro?
  • Do you use any of those MDOP tools not included in the Per User license or does your company need to provide compliance reporting for BitLocker, the primary feature of MBAM?
  • Does the Defender Advanced Threat Protection provide enough incentive to move to the Per User pricing model?

The answer to each of these will drive your decision. Remember that these are important decisions to make before purchasing a model; there is no good transition option to move between them. Existing machines need to have Windows 10 Pro to use the Per User licensing model or else you will still have to buy the upgrade first. Likewise, if you go down the road of Per User and realize that you need MBAM in the future, the options for acquiring it are not very attractive. Similarly, while everyone expects Microsoft to introduce a Per Device licensing model for SMB customers that allows access to Defender Advanced Threat Protection, there is no public plan for that. Be sure to educate yourself before deciding the direction for your company.

For more information on the features, benefits, and differences in the licensing models, check out the Windows 10 Desktop Operating System Volume Licensing Guide.