As Microsoft prepares to stake its claim in the tablet market with Windows 8, the company is tweaking its software licensing to make it more expensive for organizations that remotely access virtual desktops using non-Windows tablets.
With Windows 8, Microsoft is adding a new optional add-on to its Software Assurance (SA) volume licensing agreement -- called a Companion Device License (CDL) -- which gives customers the right to access corporate desktops through virtual desktop infrastructure on up to four personally owned devices.
SA-covered organizations whose employees use iPads and Android tablets for VDI will need to buy the CDL, though Microsoft has not yet said what it will cost. Interestingly, the CDL requirement disappears if an organization uses tablets running Windows RT, the version designed for ARM processors, which are covered under Microsoft's new Windows RT VDA license.
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"That's basically a penalty for not buying a Windows RT tablet," said Paul DeGroot, principal analyst at Pica Communications, a Microsoft licensing consultancy in Camano Island, Wash.
According to Microsoft, when used as a companion of a Windows Software Assurance licensed PC, Windows RT tablets will automatically receive extended VDA rights.
"These rights will provide access to a full VDI image running in the datacenter which will make Windows RT a great complementary tablet option for business customers," Erwin Visser, senior director in the Windows Commercial Group, said in a Wednesday blog post.
Apple's iPad has emerged as a major catalyst for desktop virtualization, much to the chagrin of Microsoft, which had expected Windows 7 to drive the lion's share of this business. So it is certainly understandable that Microsoft would be looking for ways to slow this trend.
However, the changes to the Windows RT VDA license cover a much broader range of VDI scenarios than Microsoft's existing SA "Roaming Rights," which have been criticized for being overly restrictive. And in DeGroot's view, this is a positive development that could remove complexity from Microsoft's VDI licensing terms.
Though seemingly designed for VDI use on home PCs, SA Roaming Rights do not cover devices that a customer owns or controls, such as home PCs, DeGroot said. According to a Microsoft customer FAQ, Roaming Rights can only be used on a "device that is not controlled, directly or indirectly, by you or your affiliates (e.g., a third party's public kiosk)."
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Roaming Rights also cannot be used on corporate networks, only public ones, such as those found in coffee shops and airports. Pica Communications' DeGroot advises his customers not to use Roaming Rights because he believes these restrictions create IT security risks.
"[Roaming Rights] can be exercised only on untrusted devices over unsecure networks," DeGroot told CRN. "This keeps most IT admins awake at night, so they stop it cold whenever and wherever they can."
The Windows RT VDA license does away with these restrictions, covering personal and company-owned devices in VDI scenarios, as well as usage on public and private networks. Although the CDL stands to increase costs for users of non-Windows tablets, DeGroot describes Microsoft's four-device licensing allotment as "generous."
For customers who do not have SA, the CDL may be a cheaper VDI option than Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Access license (VDA), which costs $100 per device annually, he added.
Microsoft's loosening of Roaming Rights for VDI, DeGroot said, is part of the software giant's well-established pattern of holding onto restrictive rules in order to slow competitors until its own technology is ready for prime time.
For example, before Microsoft added Live Migration to Hyper-V, it placed a 90-day restriction on moving licenses from one device to another. That crippled VMware, which had VMotion, but not Microsoft, which lacked the feature at the time, he said.
"In effect, they froze VMware until they were ready to compete," DeGroot said.
Likewise, now that Microsoft is ready to jump into the tablet market with Windows 8, it is relaxing its previously strict Roaming Rights terms.
"The SA Roaming Right rules never hurt Microsoft much, because it didn't sell a competitive tablet with an embedded OS," DeGroot said. "But when it does -- when Windows RT devices hit the street -- the SA Roaming Right restrictions suddenly disappear, and remote access to VDI from company-owned or personally owned devices over company networks is OK."