Is Windows 10 be the last ever version? Are all future upgrades going to be free? Given how unpredictable Microsoft marketing and product management can be, we’re going to try to understand Windows 10 licensing.
Windows as a Service – the end of Upgrades
If you bought a PC or tablet retail and it came with Windows 10 pre-installed, you’ve paid for the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) license of Windows. It will receive feature updates and security patches it will install them (only Enterprise-licensed machines under IT Dept. control get to defer or cancel updates).
Microsoft has asserted that Windows 10 is “the last version of Windows” as this marks the move to “Windows as a Service.”There won’t be a Windows 11, either as a free or paid upgrade. If you don’t have Windows 10 already, you pay once for an upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 and that’s it.
Windows 10 is now on a rolling upgrade path; new features and maintenance releases (like the old Service Packs) come free. That doesn’t mean that all current Windows features or new features will automatically free. The whole Software as a Service model changes how software companies raise revenue. Charging customers under a regular subscription model is much more lucrative than one-time licenses and is supposedly much more transparent. Customers can ‘see’ the value of their annual or monthly recurring subscription. Mostly. And they are very poor at cancelling subscriptions.Micorosft is already doing this with Office 365 and Azure.
Software as a Service is the way the whole IT industry is moving, with Cloud Services and micro-payments. In a way it harks back to the old mainframe days of the Big Iron tech companies like IBM which always charged for software this way.
Windows Licenses Going Forward
For home and small business users, Windows 10 will just be kept up to date for the lifetime of the device. when you need to buy a new machine, you pay for the OEM licence as part of the PC’s purchase price each time. You will always have the latest base version of the operating system.
This means no more complicated wipe-and-overwrite upgrades. Software vendors and developers can release software confident in the compatibility with a limited number of Windows 10 builds that are always being updated. It’s a stable and almost singular platform.
Windows Enterprise and Windows Education edition customers have to maintain their Software Assurance (SA) in order to get new feature updates and maintain their support agreements with Microsoft. Software Assurance is part of the Enterprise and Education annual licensing: software as a service.
Licenses Branch Out
Windows 10 is now in three lines: consumers, business users and mission-critical business systems. Each of these has a ‘branch’.
Consumers follow the Current Branch (CB) receiving Windows updates as they are released.
Business Users default to Current Branch but have the option to select Current Branch for Business (CBB). Feature updates can be deffered for up to eight months after release to the Current Branch which allows for testing, compatibility work and fixes to business systems running legacy software.
The Long Term Service Branch (LTSB) is for machines running ‘life-dependent’, highly secure or mission-critical systems, for example medical centres or air traffic control, where you don’t want to throw immature updates into critical configurations. LTSB releases will be supported for at least 5 years or 10 years if the customer has Software Assurance. Long Term Service Branch is only Available for Windows Enterprise edition.
By default Windows Home edition is be on Current Branch. Windows Pro can be on either Current Branch or Current Branch for Business. Windows Enterprise edition is available with or without Software Assurance and the option for Current, Current Business or LTSB.
You Can’t Take it With You
For Home and Pro licenses, Windows 10 is very much tied to the single machine on which it was purchased or on which an OEM copy was activated. This isn’t any change over Windows 7 and 8. Swap out core components of the device (processor, motherboard and some others in combination) and you’ll have to call Microsoft to explain the hardware change and get Windows re-activated.
There are few circumstances under which Microsoft will allow you to transfer a license from one machine to another without a very good reason. AJS