Windows 10 licensing: Free Upgrade? Here’s What You Need to Know

Windows 10 licensing: Free Upgrade? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Windows 10 licensing: FREE Upgrade? Here's What You Need to Know

Earlier this year, Microsoft did what few thought they’d ever hear. The vendor announced that the next version of its Windows operating system would be given away for free.

The reason for this was simple: Microsoft wanted to move as many users off previous versions of Windows (7, 8 and 8.1 as well as Vista and even XP and beyond – although these latter OSs won’t get a free upgrade) and onto Windows 10.

This forms part of its plans to develop a universal ecosystem. This is because too many versions of Windows are bad for developers and Microsoft as they have to attempt to support them all with the obvious impacts on resource and the risks to a high quality universal customer experience.

But while Redmond’s largesse extends to consumers, there is a different plan for the enterprise for while licensing for consumers is fairly straightforward, for corporates it can be another matter.

Enterprise licensing

The licensing issue is a little more problematic when it comes to enterprises. Firms using regular Windows or Windows Pro, and this would normally be smaller firms, will get a free upgrade – with their situation largely the same as the home user. The hardware comes with an OEM license, ensuring updates for the lifetime of that machine.

But users with Enterprise SKUs won’t get the free licenses, not that this would be a major issue. If your organisation has a current Software Assurance Agreement (SA), it will be able to upgrade regardless. This is one of the major advantages of having an up to date Software Assurance Agreement: over the two/three-year lifetime of the agreement your organisation is entitled to use any new versions that are released in that time. Most Windows Enterprise users should be covered by these agreements.

Of course, there are the usual Software Assurance limitations. If your agreement ended before Windows 10 was released, there is no right to upgrade and your systems would be stuck with Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 Enterprise. Also, organisations without a Software Assurance agreement at all will also not be permitted to upgrade.

Up to February 2014, it would be difficult if not impossible for an organisation to be in this position. Windows Enterprise doesn’t come as a retail boxed copy; you had to buy it through one of Microsoft’s volume licensing schemes. The only way to license Windows Enterprise for a computer was to get it included with Software Assurance (either as a package of licenses plus Software Assurance, or, for new PCs shipped with Windows Pro, as an SA-only SKU). As such, customers should not have been in the position of having Windows Enterprise but no SA upgrade rights.

But in March 2014, Microsoft launched a new Windows Enterprise License-only SKU entitling organisations to install Windows Enterprise as a current version, or supported older versions of Windows Enterprise. However, it doesn’t include Software Assurance’s two or three-year entitlement to use any new versions that are released. But there would be rare instances of this as the pricing is about the same as the equivalent license-with-Software Assurance version. From what we know, the license-only SKU was devised to handle organisations that can’t enter into annuity agreements for whatever reason. Microsoft say that once one of these Enterprise SKUs has been upgraded to Windows 10, it will be able to update in the same way that home and small businesses will.

The new method of upgrading will simplify things for home and small business users. Enterprises with Software Assurance should not notice any difference, except that keeping up to date with the latest version of the operating system should be simpler than ever.

Branching out

Lastly, Windows 10 brings about a new way of updating that reflects the current trend of regular updates (think Firefox and Chrome and even Office 365). There are now two versions of Windows Update: one standard version and Windows Update for Business, which is included for Pro and Enterprise SKUs licenses.

There are also several options for managing the delivery of updates to enterprise license holders called “Servicing Branches”.

Current Branch users will receive updates as they are delivered to the wider market. This is aimed at consumer devices, early adopters and those testing systems commercially.

Current Branch For Business users receive feature updates after quality and application compatibility has been assessed via the Current Branch. They will continue to receive security updates on a regular basis. This enables organisations time to start validating updates in their environments.

Only available on Windows 10 Enterprise SKUs, Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) users receive the latest security and critical updates for the duration of mainstream support (five years) and extended support (an additional five years). To reduce changes to devices on an LTSB path, new features are not delivered.


As usual, Windows puts in place activation keys and methods to confirm that a customer’s copy of Windows is properly licensed. All editions of Windows 10 require product activation. Volume Activation relates to computers that are covered under a Volume Licensing agreement/subscription.

There is a Key Management Service (KMS) that enables organisations to activate systems within an organisation’s environment through an internally hosted service. Multiple Activation Key activates computers on a one-time basis by using the hosted activation services that is provided by Microsoft.

Lastly, there is activation using Active Directory. Any Windows 10 or Windows Server 2012 R2 computers linked to a domain will activate automatically during setup. These clients will stay activated as long as they remain in the domain and continue some sort of contact with a domain controller.

As always platform upgrades can often throw up many contingent and hidden challenges that were not anticipated and for many IT functions already challenged to utilise limited resources to drive agility and business advantage this can cause unwelcome headaches. For more information about how Crayon can help your enterprise upgrade and optimise your investments in complex technology call your local Crayon team today or visit us at

I am the Group Chief Marketing Officer at Crayon. My team are focused on driving enhanced lead generation campaigns and nurturing for our sales organisations across multiple geographies though the utilisation and coordination of all online and offline communication channels. We are driving increased brand awareness in the business's core competency areas of Software Asset Management (SAM), cloud and volume licensing solutions and associated consultancy services. I have over 20 years of senior business leadership experience within direct marketing/direct sales and mass distribution businesses, in both the B2B and B2C markets serving on the boards of both private and public multinational corporations.