Microsoft is tweaking its line-up of Windows versions for business users that revolve around its Software Assurance licensing program.
Microsoft is going to make Windows Enterprise available to those without Software Assurance coverage for the first time. Previously, only those volume licensees with Software Assurance (SA) were able to buy Windows Enterprise. Now there will be a new Windows Enterprise Edition SKU, or version, available to anyone willing to pay for it, according to one of my sources, who requested anonymity.
Microsoft also is ending the ability to attach Software Assurance to Windows Professional, another of its business SKUs, according to the same anonymous tipster.
Software Assurance (SA) is Microsoft's add-on plan for volume licensees that guarantees them automatic upgrades to the latest versions of certain products during the two-to-three-year period they are covered by SA. SA coverage is included in some volume contracts (like Enterprise Agreements) and has been an optional purchase under others. Certain Microsoft products, such as Windows Enterprise and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, have been available to date to Software Assurance subscribers only.
Microsoft officials confirmed the changes are coming in March. Here's the official explanation as to what's happening, via a Microsoft spokesperson:
"We have heard from customers of all sizes who could benefit from being able to use Windows Enterprise and we have responded to that feedback with the availability of Windows Enterprise as a standalone upgrade option. Additionally some customers per internal policy are unable to enter annuity agreements. This change expands the availability of the Enterprise edition to now include these customers. Windows Enterprise will be available as a standalone upgrade SKU in the Open and Select/Select Plus programs beginning March 1, 2014.
"Besides the new set of options to obtain Windows Enterprise, for most customers these changes are minor as pricing and benefits remain the same. For example the Windows licensing use rights, and access to other Software Assurance (SA) benefits like new version rights, virtualization rights, or the product features and media are not changing.
"Overall this is a technical change to enable Windows Enterprise to be sold standalone with minimal impact to existing customers. Customers who are renewing existing SA are not impacted and customers who previously bought Windows Pro Upgrade + SA will buy Windows Enterprise Upgrade + SA at the same price with equivalent use rights.
"Going forward Windows SA will attach to the Windows Enterprise upgrade meaning that acquiring SA on any OEM Windows Pro license within 90 days of purchase will no longer be applicable as Windows Enterprise is not available through OEM. To help ease this transition for customers who leverage this option, Windows SA may continue to be attached within 90 days to Windows Pro on any new PC acquired before July 1, 2014."
Update: Directions on Microsoft has more information on the new Windows Enterprise changes.
Microsoft is in the midst of rolling out sweeping changes to its volume-licensing program. The company is introducing a new Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA) designed to replace the variety of volume-licensing plans Microsoft currently offers to small, midsize and enterprise users. Company officials disclosed previously that SA will be available in "future release" of MPSA that is currently scheduled for "the end of 2014."
I asked Microsoft officials whether they are changing the SKU line-up and licensing terms to ease upgrades in the hopes of attracting more business upgraders from Windows XP, Windows Vista and/or Windows 7 to Windows 8. No word back on that so far.
Update No. 2: And the official answer is no on the upgrade question. From the previously mentioned Microsoft spokesperson:
"This change is to provide additional purchase options to the Enterprise edition in general and it is not specific to Windows 8.1, as downgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise would apply."