Microsoft amps up Windows-as-a-subscription effort

Swipes 'E3' and 'E5' labels -- and recurring payment concept -- from Office 365 to build enterprise plans that start at US$84 per user per year

Microsoft today announced that later this year its partners will start selling subscriptions to Windows 10 Enterprise, the edition that targets businesses, for US$7 per month per user.

Dubbed Windows 10 Enterprise E3 -- the last part of the label a nod to Office 365's nomenclature -- the subscription program will be offered from a select group of resellers already on the Redmond, Wash. company's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) list.

The approved CSP resellers -- Microsoft did not identify which partners would participate -- will sell Windows 10 Enterprise E3 for US$7 per user per month, or US$84 per user per year.

Yusuf Mehdi, an executive in the Windows and Devices Group, briefly mentioned Windows 10 Enterprise E3 in his time on stage Tuesday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto, and provided a bit more information in a post to a company blog.

Unlike Microsoft's historical licensing -- which licenses the operating system on a per-device basis -- the E3 subscription will be per-user. That approach wasn't novel for the firm: It began experimenting with per-user licensing in October 2014, then expanded that in January 2015 with Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS).

ECS was a bundle that included per-user licenses to Windows Enterprise, Microsoft Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility Suite, a management platform for, name aside, both mobile and desktop devices.

But Windows 10 Enterprise E3 is not a direct descendent of ECS.

That honor -- and the root of probable confusion -- goes to different subscriptions announced last week. Named "Secure Productive Enterprise", with E3 and E5 suffixes, they toss together Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5, Office 365 E3/E5 and Enterprise Mobility + Security E3/E5.

Enterprise Mobility + Security will be a combination of device and user management tools, and advanced security options. (Microsoft defined the contents of the Enterprise Mobility + Security's components last week on its website.)

According to Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft who specializes in the technology company's complex licensing rules and practices, Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and E5 will cover licenses for the operating system only, and so serve as a subset of Secure Productive Enterprise E3 and E5.

Microsoft did not immediately reply to questions about Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and E5, including one posed about the plans' contents.

The difference between an E3 and E5 subscription, Miller pointed out in an interview, is the addition of Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (APT) to E5. APT, which Microsoft announced in February but waited until May to accept testers from the general public, is a cloud-based, post-breach detection and remediation service.

Interestingly, Microsoft has fully adopted the Office 365 labels -- E3 and E5 -- to denote the different plans for not only Windows 10 Enterprise subscriptions, but others, too, including Secure Productive Enterprise and Enterprise Mobility + Security.

"E5 will be the maximum-compliance-and-risk-reduction [plan]," said Miller, comparing it to the same-named Office 365 subscription. "E3 will be for just getting things done."

Mehdi didn't make much of a case today for Windows 10 Enterprise E3, much less E5; but Microsoft will probably tout the programs in more detail as they become available to customers.

One thing's for sure, said Miller: The debut of Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and E5, and their per-user focus linked to recurring payments, doesn't mean subscriptions will suddenly supplant the perpetual OS licenses most users are familiar with. "There will be a mixture in most organizations for the foreseeable future," Miller asserted.

So what customers has Microsoft put in its sales crosshairs with Windows 10 Enterprise E3 or E5? Depends, Miller said. "Whether it's Office, Windows or management tools, you have to compare [the different licensing models] with what you do, what rights you require, how often you upgrade, a combination of things," he said.

Although today's announcement was aimed at resellers, Microsoft will almost certainly sell the Windows 10 Enterprise plans using its own sales teams and through its various direct channels, including the Enterprise Advantage self-serve licensing storefront set to launch in 2017.

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Gregg Keizer

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