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You've bought Windows E3 for your company. But have you?

Last weekend I had a brilliant idea – to treat my family to a delicious Japanese curry. During my shopping tour around Waitrose, I dropped a couple of curry boxes in my basket alongside the other essentials on the grocery list. Then I sailed through the self-checkout and went home humming a happy song. 

What song? I don't remember that detail, for I was thinking about the security configuration of my web servers simultaneously. As a typical male creature, I am not so good at multitasking, especially at clearly thinking about several important topics simultaneously. One of them being that curry for the family supper.

Key takeaways:

  • Windows E3 licensing is tricky.

  • To get Windows Enterprise, you need Windows Professional to come with your laptops.

  • Many miss this requirement, leading to issues.

  • Centralise buying and read licenses carefully.

Oh, bummer

On arrival, I realised the curry packs I picked up were just sauce concentrate. And I was still missing all the other ingredients. Unfortunately, all the stores in our midst close at 4 PM on Sunday. You could have guessed that it didn't go well.

See, corporate, or "volume", Windows licences are like that curry sauce. They alone don't grant you rights to deploy Windows Enterprise. All you can buy through an Enterprise or MPSA Agreement is Windows Upgrade. And there's always a risk that the other ingredients for the perfect family supper are not in your cupboard, and you must return to the store.

Windows should come pre-installed

Your computers must be licensed with a "Qualified Operating System" to be eligible for a Windows Enterprise Upgrade. You are generally expected to acquire it pre-installed on desktops and laptops.

See, that "normally expected" part isn't widespread knowledge. And to make things a little more complicated, it cannot be just any operating system, even if it is from Microsoft. 

For most of us, our computers must come with Windows Professional pre-installed by the manufacturer to qualify for an upgrade to Windows Enterprise. 

Nope, it's not common knowledge

If you have made this mistake in the past, or if you work in SAM or licensing, or even if you are a clever person who learns from other people's mistakes, you may be thinking: "C'mon, everyone knows that!". Well, not everyone. Not according to what I witness pretty regularly.

Just a couple of hours ago, I was looking at a purchase order in which half of the desktops were specced "naked" – without an operating system. And that document was produced by respectable IT procurement people working for a reputable organisation. Luckily this time, we managed to stop the PO in its tracks.

What if you buy computers without Windows?

But what would have happened if they bought those "naked" PCs? If we go back to my curry analogy, it would be like buying an empty saucer pan. You have your shiny pan and curry concentrate, but you still cannot make a curry. You don't have the right to deploy Windows 10 Enterprise Upgrade because there's nothing to upgrade from. So you go back to the store.

Depending on the availability in your geographic location, your options may vary. You may opt for a full Windows Professional licence for each computer. And to do so, you would have to go to a retail facility because they are not available through the corporate channel. You may otherwise decide to sign a GGWA ("Get Genuine Windows Advantage") Agreement. 

The same condition applies to computers acquired with Linux. Mac OS X may sometimes qualify, but please always check the latest Product Terms.

Windows Home is not an option

In my experience, this revelation's most devastating moral effect has always been on the customers who purchased laptops with Windows Home edition, who bought their hardware with Microsoft Windows pre-installed, just not the right flavour of it. Sorry, but you cannot make a chicken curry with just cauliflower and potatoes. Back to the store, then.

Again, depending on your geographic location and eligibility, you may be able to purchase a Windows Home-to-Professional "edition transition" key. And if there is no such option for you where you live, you are back to the "naked computers" scenario. 

I must note here that some customers may be allowed to upgrade from Windows Home depending, for example, if they qualify for Academic licensing. Doubts? Always check Product Terms.

Centralise your procurement, or else

It is one of those mistakes that you will never repeat. Unfortunately, it does not always work as expected in decentralised organisations. Suppose hardware and software procurement is not under the central ITAM department's supervision. In that case, someone may eventually purchase "naked" computers again. I see this happening all the time.

Is it Microsoft's fault?

Let's be honest; the whole Windows licensing policy is counter-intuitive. Why, dear Microsoft, don't you offer full operating system licences in the volume channel? But while there is a good chance it may never change, we can still learn from other people's mistakes and be prepared. 

Read that boring license and pull your act together

Always read the label. I didn't; hence we had to resort to an apple crumble, thanks to the basket our lovely neighbours had put outside with fruits from their garden. Not that I complain. The crumble was marvellous. And what's not to love about apples? But to finish my curry quest, I still have to return to the store for the other ingredients. It is probably not a complete product if it says "Windows Upgrade" on the tin.

Have a shopping list and develop good purchasing habits. Have a robust process and centrally approve all your software and hardware acquisitions. Please, don't be misled by the "Software Asset Management" name. A successful SAM programme should also look after hardware assets from the perspective of compliance and licensing costs.

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