Ballmer On Windows 8 VDI License For iPads: 'We Are In A Battle'

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Microsoft is acknowledging that its Windows 8 virtual desktop infrastructure license, which could raise costs for organizations that let employees use personal iPads and Android tablets to access Windows desktops, is a competitive weapon to wield against its industry foes.

"We are in a battle," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CRN in an interview Monday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference. "Our partners will figure that out, and they will find the best value for the customer."

In Windows 8, Microsoft is introducing the Companion Device License (CDL), which gives volume licensing customers the right to access corporate desktops through virtual desktop infrastructure on up to four personally owned devices. The CDL only applies to non-Windows tablets; organizations whose employees use personal Windows 8 tablets with VDI won't have to pay extra for the rights the CDL conveys.

[Related: Exclusive: Steve Ballmer Speaks With CRN At Microsoft WPC]

Under Microsoft's current VDI licensing terms, customers who use devices not covered by volume licensing agreements -- such as iPads, thin clients and contractor or employee-owned PCs -- must buy the Virtual Desktop Access license subscription (VDA), which costs $100 per device annually. Microsoft has not yet said what the CDL will cost, so its potential competitive impact isn't clear.

What is clear is that in Microsoft's view, organizations using iPads and Android tablets to access Windows through VDI are getting productivity benefits without paying for them. The CDL is Microsoft's way of closing this loophole.

In the interview earlier this week, Ballmer suggested that customers that purchase Windows 8 tablets will see a cost advantage from not having to also buy the CDL.

"I think we will put things together in a more comfortable package than the competition because it is where our bread is buttered," Ballmer told CRN. "Obviously, if you don’t own a Microsoft device [and] you want to buy a Windows license for it, we are always glad to sell you one. And we do have customers who will buy Windows licenses effectively, whether it is through VDI or people who just install Windows on a Mac."

As PC sales decline and tablet sales rise, Microsoft is adjusting its Windows licensing to account for this shift. Virtualization makes things more challenging for Microsoft, because the technology delivers Windows to many different types of devices, thereby muddying the licensing waters.

Ken Phelan, CTO of Montvale, N.J.-based Gotham Technology Partners, understands why Microsoft is introducing the CDL but is disappointed that Microsoft is continuing to use end points as a licensing control mechanism.

"If we publish a Windows 8 license in a cloud or VDI model for a client, what does it matter how many different devices or end points the client accesses it from? Isn’t that the whole point of cloud desktop-as-a-service?" Phelan said in an interview.

NEXT: Microsoft Partners Weigh In On The CDL

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