Microsoft expands its lineup of free Windows and Office evaluation packages

Need a copy of Windows 7, Office 2010, or Windows Server 2008 R2 for internal testing? Microsoft is now offering free evaluation versions of those products in addition to its current editions. Just watch out for the time bomb.

What’s a TechNet subscriber to do? If you’ve been using software from Microsoft’s low-cost subscription service for evaluation and testing purposes, your life’s about to get more complicated.

TechNet’s paid subscriptions end for good late next year. For considerably more money, you can sign up for an MSDN subscription that offers many of the options that were available in TechNet. But if your needs are straightforward, the free TechNet Evaluation Center might be a better alternative.

Microsoft is aggressively pushing this program, which offers Microsoft products as free downloads. Everything you’ll find here is a full-featured evaluation version, with no feature limitations. The software can be installed and run on physical hardware or in a VM. And this week Microsoft announced that it is now offering older versions of Windows and Office as free evaluations in addition to the current lineup, with the goal of allowing IT pros to install the software and use it for pilot projects and compatibility testing.

So what’s the catch? All of these downloads are time-bombed. When the clock runs out, they stop working or shift into reduced functionality mode. But the evaluation periods, which range from 30 days to six months, are long enough to do some very thorough testing.

This week’s additions are on a new page, titled “Previous versions.” The lineup includes professional products (no Home Premium or Home and Student SKUs) that are still in the mainstream support phase:

  • Windows 7 Enterprise Evaluation (90 days)
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Evaluation (180 days)
  • Office Professional Plus 2010 (60 days)
  • Project Professional 2010 (60 days)
  • Visio Premium 2010 (60 days)

Products that are in extended support are not on the list. That means no Windows XP or Windows Vista, no Server 2008, and no versions of Office before 2010.

Getting the download link and product key requires that you sign in to TechNet with a Microsoft account and agree to receive a few emails from Microsoft during the trial period "to enhance your evaluation experience."

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The new additions join the lineup of current products available on the TechNet Evaluation Center:

You’ll also find trial versions of products in the System Center family, Office Servers (including Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013, and SharePoint Server 2013), SQL Server, and a number of cloud-based services.

If you’re looking for more flexibility, you have a wide range of subscription options. Some are restricted to registered partners, others are aimed  at developers, and still others are restricted to students and startups. Depending on your qualifications, you can find some excellent deals. For details, see my post at TechProResearch (paid subscription required): TechNet subscriptions are going away: Here are the best low-cost alternatives.

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