Licensing Considerations for Windows 8

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 1/18/2013 | 8 comments

Brien Posey
As with any operating system upgrade, organizations considering a transition to Windows 8 must carefully consider the licensing requirements and implications.

For the most part, the licensing requirements are very straightforward. Microsoft has even rewritten the license terms to make them very easy to understand. Most of the legalese has been replaced with plain English. As such, most organizations will be able to simply purchase the appropriate upgrade license and move forward with their deployments. However, you need to be aware of some surprises.

Differences in Windows 8 editions
The first (and arguably most important) consideration when planning an upgrade or migration to Windows 8 is choosing which edition to deploy. Each edition of Windows 8 offers a different feature set, and Microsoft's supported upgrade paths from Windows 7 are edition specific.

If you are planning an in-place upgrade, you must choose your Windows 8 edition based on the edition of Windows 7 you are running. This chart outlines Microsoft's supported upgrade paths.

You can upgrade to Windows 8 from the operating systems listed belowYou can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from the operating systems listed belowYou can upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise from the operating systems listed below
Windows 7 StarterWindows 7 StarterWindows 7 Professional (Volume License)
Windows 7 Home BasicWindows 7 Home BasicWindows 7 Enterprise (Volume License)
Windows 7 Home PremiumWindows 7 Home PremiumWindows 8 (Volume License)
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Ultimate

If you plan a clean installation of Windows 8 (rather than an in-place upgrade), you can choose any Windows 8 edition you want. However, if you pick an edition that is not listed within the supported upgrade path, you probably won't be able to get upgrade pricing.

The upgrade path isn't the only consideration. You must also consider the features you will need. This table provides a feature comparison.

FeatureWindows 8Windows 8 ProWindows 8 Enterprise
Remote DesktopClient onlyClient serverClient server
EFS and BitLocker EncryptionNoYesYes
Slide Load Metro AppsNoPartial supportPartial support
Boot From VHDNoYesYes
Join an Active Directory DomainNoYesYes
Group Policy SupportNoYesYes
Hyper-VNo64-bit only64-bit only
Windows to GoNoNoYes
Can Be Virtualized by RemoteFXNoNoYes
Services for NFSNoNoYes
Windows Media CenterNoYes (with add-in)No

Virtual machine licensing requirements
One licensing consideration that has caught some administrators by surprise is the way Windows 8 is licensed for virtual environments. As you might have heard, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise include Client Hyper-V, a desktop hypervisor that allows you to run virtual machines on a Windows 8 desktop. Although Windows 8 is licensed to run Hyper-V, it is not licensed to let you operate Windows 8 within a virtual machine. Microsoft requires a separate Windows 8 license for every instance, regardless of whether Windows 8 is running on physical or virtual hardware.

I think the main reason this requirement catches some administrators off guard probably has to do with Microsoft's inconsistent licensing policies. Windows Server 2012 also includes Hyper-V. However, a Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition license will allow you to install Windows as a host operating system, and you can create two Windows Server 2012 virtual machines without having to purchase any additional licenses. The Windows Server 2012 Datacenter Edition license allows for an unlimited number of virtual machines.

Windows XP Mode
When Microsoft released Windows Vista, there was a tremendous backlash against the operating system, because many applications that had been developed for Windows XP would not function properly in Vista. Microsoft's solution was a Windows 7 feature called Windows XP Mode.

Windows XP Mode used Microsoft's Virtual PC to run a virtual instance of Windows XP behind the scenes. The nice thing about the way Microsoft implemented this feature was that it was completely transparent. Applications running in Windows XP were accessible from the Windows 7 desktop without requiring the user to interact directly with the Windows XP virtual machine. In many cases, users didn't even realize the Windows XP virtual machine existed.

If your organization uses Windows XP Mode, you might want to reconsider the decision to upgrade to Windows 8. Windows XP Mode does not exist in Windows 8.

Some are quick to point out that Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise include Hyper-V, so Windows XP Mode really isn't needed anymore. You can simply run Windows XP in a Hyper-V virtual machine. There is just one problem: The Windows XP license was included with Windows 7 but is not included with Windows 8. If you attempt to remove the virtual hard disk file used by Windows XP Mode and connect it to Hyper-V in Windows 8, you will receive a message that Windows XP needs to be activated. However, the activation process will fail, because the Windows XP license does not extend to Windows 8/Hyper-V environments. Fortunately, there is a detailed description of the problem and Microsoft's official licensing policies for Windows XP Mode on the company's website. If XP Mode is part of your environment, you should read this soon.

Obviously, there are a lot of choices to be made here. Hopefully, these tables will help you make your decision. But before you make any decision, you have to be clear about your needs as an organization.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
stotheco   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/20/2013 12:01:18 AM
Re: Re : Licensing Considerations for Windows 8
Whoa, now these are a lot of things to consider. Hate to admit we seem pretty behind as we were looking at Win7 and boom, here comes Win8. 
SunitaT   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/19/2013 9:25:06 AM
Re: Listin'
I'm wondering if smaller businesses may want to delay migration until new versions come out and the bugs are worked out.

@Trek, I agree with you. If the users are still using windows-XP then I think its better to shift to windows-7 because its more stable OS compared to Win-8. I think it will take couple of years more for Win-8 to become more stable.

SunitaT   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/19/2013 9:14:11 AM
Re : Licensing Considerations for Windows 8
If your organization uses Windows XP Mode, you might want to reconsider the decision to upgrade to Windows 8.

@Brien, thanks a lot for the article. Our organization is using Windows XP mode and was planning for OS upgrade. Looks like shifting to Windows-7 is better idea than directly jumping to Windows-8.
Henrisha   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/19/2013 1:09:34 AM
Re: Licensing Considerations for Windows 8
Wow, those are some pretty detailed and informative charts. Have to bookmark this post since we're currently looking into Win8 and this is something worth referencing to.
singlemud   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/18/2013 9:01:42 PM
Re: licensing considerations for windows 8
That is a great article. I will mark this for my future reference. I am planning to upgrade to windows 8
Trek   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/18/2013 8:16:18 PM
Re: Listin'
Thanks for the detailed info.  There are many hidden things that IT could easily stumble over.  Though Windows 8 looks radically different, it's built on the same base as Windows 7, so people's applications should run fine. 

I'm wondering if smaller businesses may want to delay migration until new versions come out and the bugs are worked out.  While it is cheaper to upgrade now, and Microsoft has made it fairly easy, it  may be worth for some to wait. 

Question, how thorough have people found Microsoft's upgrade assistant to be?  Does it catch most of the possible conflicts and isues?
Damian Romano   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/18/2013 3:26:37 PM
Thanks for sharing this list, Brien. In my first class towards my MCSA I'm evaluating the different operating systems and features of Windows 7. Given the fact that many enterprises haven't even rolled that out to all of their pc's (even though they must since XP support is going away in '14), I figure I'm still learning the right info. Nevertheless, I'm going to save this post for comparison and reference when I need to write a paper here soon.
David Wagner   Licensing Considerations for Windows 8   1/18/2013 2:52:17 PM
Quite a list
Thanks Brien for some very thorough charts!

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