Microsoft’s Tablet And Smartphone Licensing: Still Counting Devices When The World Only Wants To Count Users

Over the last few years, there have been fantastic advances in technology that have brought us almost a billion smartphones and tablets. These handy mobile computers give us access to our Microsoft Windows and Office products anytime and from anywhere. No longer are we tied to the old clunky desktop device in the office. This is good stuff: It lifts the age-old location-dependent restrictions that meant nothing got done unless you were physically in the office.

There’s only one hitch: Microsoft continues to apply licensing models that count physical devices. Device counting is fine if I have multiple access devices each with their own Windows and Office software versions installed. But when I only have one version of Windows and Office but wish to access that version remotely or virtually via multiple access devices, why should I have to pay more for the privilege? In today’s increasingly cloud-delivered software world that simply counts users not devices, that’s the question more and more people are asking.

Some details: With Windows 8, users that have a "primary device" licensed under a volume agreement with Software Assurance (SA) for Windows can access Windows on- or off-premise on up to 4 devices by buying the new Companion Subscription License (CSL). Prior to the advent of the CSL, each extra device required a Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) subscription in order to provide virtual access to their Windows desktop.

But while it would be great to be able to multi-task with multiple access devices all at the same time, the reality is I can only physically do one thing at once. By introducing this CSL pricing model, Microsoft is implying that I am getting more value from their Office products because I can access my office software using any of my devices depending on where and how I want to work. You see, Microsoft wants me to pay more money for the extra "benefit" I am getting from my tablet or smartphone. Hold on a second: I am still only accessing my one version of Office, albeit it from different devices at different times, but I have to pay more?!

Interestingly, Microsoft does have precedents for user-based licensing models. In its Server lines of business, Microsoft allows clients to pick either a device access license or a user access license.  And Microsoft’s own cloud-based solution Office 365 also only counts users and not devices.

The core problem is that Microsoft is applying an increasingly outdated device-orientated pricing model to its Desktop products even as it tries to keep up with a rapidly increasing demand to license its products per user. Forrester believes that pricing models like CSL will also drive consumers and businesses to cloud-based options that price by user, not by each device. Wouldn’t Microsoft make more money in the long run and preserve market share if they were to encourage folks to use whatever device they choose to access their Microsoft software without charging them more for the "benefit"? We think so, anyway.