Windows 8 part 2: Licensing complexity


on 12 November 2012

Last time we talked about how Windows 8 brings a dramatic shift to user experience. Today we’re going to explore whether businesses can escape the Window’s licensing complexity for a simpler, more cost-effective approach.

It comes round like Christmas. And just as family rows over who-sleeps-where and who-eats-what are part of many a Yuletide gathering, Microsoft operating system upgrades arrive with old baggage and new gifts.

As well as disputes over technical capability, compatibility with existing IT investment and usability there is the perennial bugbear of business IT: software licensing.

Installation Uncertainty

The arguments started before Windows 8 even launched. Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at licensing advisory firm Pica Communications, told TechTarget that efforts to simplify licensing could lead to greater complexity.

He says that the text changes in Microsoft’s August 2012 Product Use Rights (PUR) agreement for Windows 8, interpreted literally, mean that businesses cannot install the operating system on a virtual machine (VM) because the license only applies to a physical device. This had been an explicit right according to earlier wording.

There is also some ambiguity around installing Windows 8 over a network, a common method to save time and money in IT administration, as the PUR has removed the language that referred to this practice, DeGroot says.

Now to be clear, Microsoft says the right to run the software as a hypervisor or to be distributed over the network is implicit in the new licensing agreement. But IT managers previously caught out by subtle changes to software licensing terms in the past may want to seek clarification.

BYOD Uncertainty

In a similar vein, IT administrators may want to be careful in managing Windows 8 licences around another 21st century IT trend. The bring-your-own-device ethos now means some IT departments host apps on a server, or cloud, and publish them to a range of clients.

However, Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told that firms should be careful around remote-access rights to Microsoft products from mobile devices. It could even be cheaper and easier for a user to access a PC from their phone or tablet, than to have them access a server.

Controversy has dogged Microsoft licensing for a long time. In 1998, a row erupted over the licensing of Windows Terminal Server, when critics claimed Microsoft was charging too much for remote access to Windows environments.

This was followed by a more heated controversy over the introduction of Software Assurance in 2001. The new rental model anticipated the move to software-as-a-services but Microsoft customers complained the price was too high, the terms were too complex and lacked transparency in comparison to client access licence on which the Microsoft established its business.

License Value

The argument that has always been used in favour of open source software is that much of it is free. This is important for many users but in some corporate IT departments, the cost of software licensing is not the most pressing problem: staff salaries, recruitment and retention are all pressing problems.

That’s why, when it comes to a choice between Windows and open source alternatives, a desire for simplicity and transparency could become persuasive with CIOs. Open source software is not free, in the sense businesses need the assurance of support. But that cost does not change if you copy a few, or a few hundred images of the software. IT staff can focus on what they do best – getting close to the business plan and building an IT strategy to support it – rather than worrying about complex commercial terms with vendor.

License Risk

Another factor is risk. With a move to new Microsoft licensing terms, there is always a chance of unwittingly using software beyond the terms of the agreement. In the UK, the Business Software Alliance has named and shamed businesses for being on the wrong side of licensing agreements. That’s something IT leaders may want to bear in mind when choosing an OS strategy.

Since Windows 8 creates a radical departure in terms of user interface, it is forcing IT decision-makers to stop and think about their options. A desire for a less risk, less complexity and more transparency in software licensing will make the arguments for open source more persuasive as business decide whether or not to move to Windows 8. Open source lowers cost too, and that won’t hurt either.

In our next instalment we’ll take a look at applications. See you in a couple of weeks.

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