Windows 10 has become the point of the spear for a whole new set Microsoft’s software licensing strategies in which longstanding licensing structures and concepts are discarded or reversed. Many of these new ideas have major implications for how customers plan, manage, and budget for their Microsoft software. Here are four important changes that have major implications.
Charging Customers for Updates
Until now, Microsoft has apparently been generous with updates that patch, fix, amend, and improve a given product. A wide range of problems are patched or improved in the first five years of a product’s lifecycle, at no cost to the customer.
Microsoft has now instituted service “branches” (for Windows and other products) and “channels” for Office. These periodically stream updates, including entirely new applications, to customer on a regular schedule. But many are no longer free. Software Assurance (an extra 29% a year for Windows and 25% a year for servers) or ongoing subscriptions are required for “Current Branch” updates on a few products, including some editions of Windows, Windows Server, and System Center.
Expect this model to become the norm in the future.
Software Assurance was one of Microsoft’s worst ideas (http://betanews.com/2011/05/16/microsoft-software-licensing-seven-deadly-sins) and I spend much of my working day saving customers millions of dollars by killing this zombie, which outlived its usefulness about 13 years ago. But it will continue to meander through the enterprise collecting this new tax on software updates.
Forcing Patches on PCs
Not only will Microsoft step up its update and new feature release cadence, but customers will not be able to deselect https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/askpfeplat/2016/08/30/a-bit-about-the-windows-servicing-model/) any of the patches included in the standard monthly patch release. Microsoft’s major product version release stability and security were questionable on a good day, causing most enterprises to wait for Service Pack 1 or even 2 before they made the call on whether to utilize a new OS or other product.
And until now, patches have been listed separately by KB (Knowledge Base) number and customers could look at the accompanying KB article to see if, for example, they felt a need to patch their computers so that they would report Daylight Savings Time in Egypt or display Dengxian fonts correctly.
The new approach cures what Microsoft calls “patch-fragmented operating systems,” a problem I have not heard of before. In my experience, customers deselect patches from the monthly update list because they have some reason to do so.
But Microsoft dislikes the idea that a customer would turn down any patches, especially those like my practice of either not installing or actively uninstalling every patch associated with Windows 10 upgrades for the last year. In the future my computer will be owned by Microsoft and such rebellion will be crushed. However, unlike Apple, Microsoft doesn’t control the hardware and with a myriad of PC manufacturers out there, subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the hardware makeup could cause this strictly regimented and obligatory patching approach to backfire.
While customers can’t back out a single KB they can back out the entire upgrade. Everything removed will be reinstalled in next month’s cumulative patch, so this will substantially increase the overhead of managing Microsoft products to ensure that they perform optimally and don’t interfere with other software. Already stretched enterprise IT Resources will be further burdened for regression and compatibility testing of internal and third-party apps as Microsoft introduces more regular updates and changes to these products. If you now have to pay for them, will Microsoft’s releases be more solid and reliable than they have been in the past? We’ll see. Will they be liable if their update breaks an internal application that took 10 months and a million dollars to build? Nope. That’s always been your problem, but now it’s your problem three times a year with these regular interval changes.
Abandoning Consistent Support Timelines
Microsoft’s new “Modern Lifecycle Policy” (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/447912/announcing-microsoft-modern-lifecycle-policy ) is, as I read it, an end to any consistent commitments to support for a product. The old policy for business software, in place since 2004, says that Microsoft provides free service packs and updates, (including both security and non-security patches) for at least five years after release of a new version and it provides security patches for free for another five. This gives business customers clear targets for retiring old products and moving to new ones. They know that support for Windows 7 ends entirely by Jan. 14, 2020, so they can plan to migrate 33% of their current Windows 7 installed base for the next three years to get off Windows 7.
In the future, a product will be supported “as long as customers stay current as per the servicing and licensing requirements published for the product or service and have the rights to use the product or service.” Whenever that is. This takes us back to the bad old days before 2004 when Microsoft roughly supported things for a few years but, if enough customers pushed for it, they’d stretch it out a bit longer. No predictability, just Microsoft’s whim.
The best Microsoft will do is “provide a minimum of 12 months’ prior notification before ending support for products governed by the Modern Policy without providing a successor product or service.” In many large organizations full retirement of a given operating system, SQL Server database version, or Windows Server version takes much longer than 12 months. That time frame is a crash, emergency migration. And, if companies can’t migrate to a supported platform fast enough, we all know what that means: insanely expensive Custom Support Agreements priced based how short on quota attainment your Microsoft account team is for the year.
Microsoft reserves the right to change functionality, including removing important features, at much shorter notice.
The EULA for Windows 10, for example, says “By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive…automatic updates without any additional notice.” Customers who were using Windows 10 Professional with Microsoft’s App-V virtualization product were told on July 5, 2016 (the Windows OS CBB 1607 release) that the Professional edition of Windows would no longer support App-V in the Anniversary Update, which shipped 28 days later, on August 2, 2016. In other words, the “update” meant the product now longer worked as well as before, intentionally.
Many organizations depend on App-V for at least some applications and this change gave them less than a month to come up with $300 per PC for Windows 10 Enterprise with Software Assurance and then upgrade the OS on all affected PCs. What you pay for may not be what you end up with. It’s like buying that new Tesla with the heads-up display, self-parking, Sirius XM and internet, and heated seat and steering wheel, only to have it cease functioning via an over-the-air update with a message on your new vehicle’s display saying “Reactivate your features via the LX package plan for $49.99 per month”. That’s not what you expected when bought the vehicle, seems like a real bait-and-switch, but…”oh wait!” It’s in the fine print of the owner’s contract? For Microsoft, it is!
Customers on the Current Branch must designate some employees as Windows Insiders or Office First Release users to ensure that they have some insight into upcoming changes that could affect their computing environment. This cannot be limited to IT professionals. Front-line users of SAP, Adobe, Oracle, and other third-party products must be guinea pigs while they do their day jobs, to ensure that their applications don’t break and they get enough notice about a toxic upgrade from Microsoft to reverse it, or beg (pay?) both Microsoft and the third-party vendor for a fix.
Total Cost of Ownership
TCO formulas for Microsoft products need to reflect the increased customer overhead for ongoing testing and deployment of frequent upgrades, removing applications that they don’t want on users’ desktops, and other duties required to ensure a stable and predictable computing environment for users. Help desks need to be beefed up to handle desktop changes when they are rolled out. When Microsoft puts a new application on users’ desktops, for example, most users will assume this product has been fully vetted by Microsoft and endorsed by their management. The help desk, which may be seeing the application for the first time, will need to answer questions about it.
Long-term (3-5 years) planning and budgeting must provide flexibility and allow substantial variability, since Microsoft’s product delivery and support are now far less predictable. Features issued for free will be retracted and monetized as a new product or service. A lack of predictability always works in Microsoft’s favor because customers are more likely to overbuy or overpay to provide some protection against detrimental changes. Just buy the “Cadillac” option but even that doesn’t guarantee functionality anymore. (e.g. E4 plan retired…E5 plan does a bit more at…twice the price!)
It doesn’t work as well for customers.
Aside from the substantial cost of overpaying, Microsoft may announce a 12-month retirement deadline halfway through a customer’s fiscal year. Unbudgeted engineering or consulting resources may be needed in the current fiscal year in order to meet the deadline. Third-party software vendors must stay on top of ongoing changes and should expect Microsoft to use its new, iron grip on the customer desktop against them. It’s not easy to compete with a company that can ship a new application to a billion PCs any time they feel like it, without notice or customer approval and make last minute additions or announce that some new feature that you were depending on didn’t make it this time.
Planning for Windows is well, er, out the window.