Questions remained for business customers after Microsoft made the announcement that consumers running Windows 7 and Windows 8 would get free upgrades to Windows 10 when it releases. Microsoft was clear. The free upgrade is for consumers only. But, that communication left a large percentage of customers in the lurch, and a good portion of the comments following the statement of policy have not been kind.
Microsoft has always catered to businesses, better than any other software provider. Why would the company alienate its biggest revenue base?
I don’t think it has. I think it boils down to confused messaging – which Microsoft historically excels at.
To help alleviate customer complaint, the company took the its blogging mechanisms last week to set the record straight, but I think only served to confuse the message even more.
In the post, Microsoft's Jim Alkove laid it out in this fashion:
Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise are not included in the terms of free Windows 10 Upgrade offer we announced last week, given active Software Assurance customers will continue to have rights to upgrade to Windows 10 enterprise offerings outside of this offer – while also benefitting from the full flexibility to deploy Windows 10 using their existing management infrastructure.
Based on this, larger customers that have valid Software Assurance contracts in place, running Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8 Enterprise, essentially are licensed for the free upgrade anyway. I covered this in an article on SuperSite last week and invite you to read it there: How Windows 10 Upgrades Might Work. In the article I detail how the upgrade will work for businesses, based on a conversation I had with a Microsoft representative who knows about these things.
Some small to medium-sized customers read too deeply into Microsoft's message, thinking that they would be exempt from any upgrade deal. That's not the case. The important distinction here is Enterprise and Pro.
As described in the SuperSite article, any Pro version of Windows 7 and Windows 8 (which most small and medium-sized businesses use) will get the upgrade to Windows 10 for free over Windows Update, just like those designated to quote/unquote consumers. If a larger company allows their SA contract to expire, they only need to downgrade (downgrade rights are included) to the Pro version of Windows and connect it to Windows Update to get the free upgrade.
Another wrinkle to all this, is the recent Enterprise Agreement pricelist addition for Microsoft's Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS). ECS is a combination of Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, but also includes a Windows per user license. Organizations can tack on ECS for an estimated $7 to $12 per month and customers without an EA agreement will be able to purchase a standalone Enterprise Cloud User Subscription License. Pricing for the standalone version has not yet been announced.
So, really. When you look at from this perspective, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for everyone – either through Windows Update to Pro versions of Windows, or through an existing contract. If you want to get all technical, and exacto about it, yes, it does cost a little, but you're really paying for the other, bundled services and products - not Windows 10. And, this speaks a little to what Microsoft has dubbed "Windows as a Service."
Servicing Windows 10 is the piece that is still most unclear and the one area where businesses might find additional charges. In the same blog post, Alkove also talked about two, new and distinct updating methods called Long Term Services Branch and the Current Branch for Business. I covered that in Microsoft Describes New Business Servicing Branches for Updating Windows 10. For those that have been part of the Windows 10 Technical Preview as Windows Insiders, at first read it sounds much like the Technical Preview updating method of Fast and Slow rings. Those that choose a Fast ring, receive new Builds quicker. Those that choose the Slow ring, get to wait to hear if Fast ring'ers had problems before also agreeing to update. But, it's a choice – a quick setting change.
But, some are suggesting (though Microsoft has not confirmed) that the new services branches won't be like that, despite having a similar structure. Instead, Microsoft will use this opportunity to apply different pricing for each branch, essentially turning feature updates into a subscription-based service.