Good night, TechNet.
The online Technet blogs and customer support forums will live on, but Microsoft announced today in a letter to subscribers that it plans to retire its venerable TechNet subscriptions service. New subscriptions will no longer be available after August 31, 2013, and the subscription service will shut down as current subscribers' contracts end.
Microsoft has offered TechNet subscriptions for most of the modern Windows era, debuting in 1998 as a massive packet of CDs, and evolving into a download option as broadband connections became common.
The services have historically been one of the best deals around for frugal IT professionals and PC enthusiasts. For an annual subscription fee of a few hundred dollars, subscribers get the right to download virtually all of the desktop and server software Microsoft sells, with multiple product keys. The software is licensed for evaluation purposes only, but that restriction is part of the license agreement and not enforced in the software itself.
As a result, a lot of enthusiasts used TechNet as a way to get cut-rate Windows client and server upgrades and licenses. Those product keys would up activating Windows on PCs deployed for everyday use instead of hewing to the “evaluation only” restriction.
To make matters worse, that smoking deal was also a boon for software pirates, who figured out long ago that they could subscribe to TechNet and sell the keys (sometimes along with counterfeit media) via the web, at prices that were too good to be true.
Over the years, Microsoft has tried to clamp down on piracy, cutting the number of product keys available to TechNet subscribers in 2010 and again a year ago, in 2012. It also changed the terms so that usage rights expired when the subscription did (although product keys continued to work).
But as the farewell letter notes, “IT trends and business dynamics have evolved,” and TechNet has outlived its original purpose.
Given its history, today’s announcement shouldn’t be a surprise. Here are the details:
In practice, that means TechNet downloads will continue until sometime near the end of 2013, as those one-time renewals expire.
Microsoft has posted an FAQ here that also covers subscription benefits through Microsoft programs such as Not-For-Resale (NFR), Volume Licensing (VL), IT Academy (ITA), MAPS, Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP)..
According to Microsoft, “The service is being retired so that Microsoft can focus on bettering our free experiences for IT professionals through TechNet including the TechNet Evaluation Center, Microsoft Virtual Academy and TechNet Forums.”
Those programs typically offer time-limited versions of software that function just like fully licensed versions until they hit an expiration date. For Windows 8, Microsoft offers a 90-day evaluation version of its Enterprise edition only. (Enterprise editions are available as volume licenses only, not at retail.) That’s a far cry from what TechNet subscribers get today: three Windows 8 Pro product keys, each with multiple activations permitted, as well as a perpetual license for Windows 8 Enterprise.
Microsoft typically offers Windows Server for longer trial periods, such as the 180-day Windows Server 2012 Essentials trial.
Product keys downloaded as part of a TechNet subscription won’t expire, although license rights for products downloaded as part of a current subscription will cease when the subscription ends.
Microsoft’s developer-focused offering, MSDN Subscriptions, will continue to be offered. MSDN prices are significantly higher than those for TechNet. For IT professionals who genuinely need Windows client and server releases for long-term evaluation, the MSDN Operating Systems package is probably the best deal. It costs $699 for the first year, with renewals running $499. That’s a steep jump from the $199 and $299 annual costs (renewals $149 and $249) for TechNet Standard and Professional, respectively.
The MSDN OS offering includes virtually all editions of Windows, even unsupported ones, as well as Windows Server 2012 and 2012 Essentials. Microsoft Office is included only with the two priciest levels, starting at more than $6119 for the first year and $2569 a year for renewals.
Microsoft did not announce any changes in its Action Pack program, which offers discounted software to registered partners.
Technet license changes through the years: