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Windows 10 Licenses: What You Need to Know


In-case you have been in hiding or without any internet connection over the past six months, you may be aware that Microsoft have released their new operating system; Windows 10. Windows 10 follows on from Windows 8.1, which had moderate success within organisations (much better than Windows 8 though!). Lets face it, Microsoft have been a bit poor with their OS’s recently; Vista was awful, Windows 8 was a tablet OS on a desktop machine but Windows 7 was great and is still the ‘go-to’ Microsoft OS for a number of organisations.

So, how will Windows 10 be any different to previously releases, and how can my organisation or me personally get a copy? This article plans to tell you everything you need to know about Windows 10 and it’s licensing.


Bit unusual to have a glossary at the beginning, but there are a number of acronyms that you should know and understand whilst reading this article.

FPP = Full Packaged Product
VL = Volume License
BYOD = Bring Your Own Device
SME = Small/Medium Enterprise
OS = Operating System
MDOP = Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack
VDA = Virtual Desktop Access
SA = Software Assurance
OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer
KMS= Key Management Service
MAK = Multiple Activation Key
WSUS = Windows Server Update Services
SaaS = Software as a Service

Windows 10 Editions

With the introduction of Windows 10, there are a number of upgraded editions of Microsoft operating system software that are available to different types of user. We have created a short table, which explains the basics below.

Full Packaged Product OEM Volume Licensing
Windows 10 Home Windows 10 Home* Windows 10 Pro
Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 Enterprise
Windows 10 Education

* Only available within selected markets and regions.

The FPP (Full packaged product) option is the options that are likely to be used more by smaller organisations and the general public; those who need a one-off install or purchase. The OEM feature is also likely to be aimed at small-mid sized organisations that are not big enough or have the requirement for the Enterprise Edition.

Obviously, the VL (volume licensing) options are aimed at large, enterprise organisations. This is where the Enterprise Editions and Education Editions come into play, and is also where the biggest discounts are likely to be had for enterprise organisations.

The Windows 10 Desktop Volume Licensing Guide provides a nice table highlighting the features for each edition of Windows 10. We have simplified this table for you:

Product Description
Windows 10 Pro Upgrade  · Small and medium businesses· Helps take advantage of the cloud technologies for their organizations.· Good choice for organizations supporting BYOD
Windows 10 Enterprise Upgrade  * Adds premium features designed to address the needs of large and mid-size organizations· Full flexibility of OS deployment, updating and support options· Comprehensive management of devices and apps.
Windows 10 Education Upgrade  · Exclusively for academic customers· Includes features from Windows 10 Enterprise· Ideal for advanced security and the comprehensive device control

· Simplified deployment with a direct path for many devices to upgrade from Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro.

· MDOP is included

Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) Subscription License  · Provides the right to access virtual Windows desktop environments from devices that are not covered by Software Assurance· Available on a per-device or per-user basis
Windows Software Assurance · Access to new versions as they become available· Flexible use rights· Set of tools, technologies, and training—including Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) and Virtualization Rights

· SA comes on a per device or per-user basis.

Upgrading to Windows 10

Windows 10 Pro Upgrade License

Windows 10 Pro is for small and medium businesses. Windows 10 Pro Upgrade license is recommended if you want to do the following:

  • Upgrade Windows 7/8/8.1 devices to Windows 10 Pro after the free upgrade offer has expired
  • Upgrade Windows 7/8/8.1 devices to Windows 10 Pro to Volume Licensing licenses
  • Upgrade Windows XP or earlier Qualifying Operating Systems to Windows 10 Pro
  • Access Downgrade Rights to editions earlier than Windows 7/8/8.1 Pro

Windows 10 Enterprise Upgrade License

Windows 10 Enterprise features include all the features you get with Windows 10 Pro, plus premium Windows 10 Enterprise Upgrade is exclusively available for purchase though a Volume Licensing agreement.

Qualifying Operating Systems

Windows licenses available through Volume Licensing are upgrade-only licenses; they do not replace the base licenses for the operating system software that comes preinstalled on new PCs. Windows Enterprise upgrades must first be licensed to run one of the qualifying operating systems, otherwise the PC will not have a valid, legal Windows license.

New Features

Microsoft will provide feature updates to Windows similarly to how Software as a Service (SaaS) does. In a similar method to how Office 365 customers receive feature updates, Windows 10 uses a similar approach to the desktop operating system, providing feature updates through Windows Update without requiring the customer to purchase upgrades to access new features.

Through Windows 10, Microsoft provides each business customer with several options to manage delivery of updates. Microsoft is introducing a concept of “Servicing Branches.”

Current Branch = receive features as they are delivered to the broad market. This is appropriate for consumer devices, as well as early adopters and test machines in commercial settings.

Current Branch For Business = receive feature updates after their quality and application compatibility has been broadly assessed via the Current Branch, while continuing to receive security updates on a regular basis. This gives you time to start validating updates in your environments.

Long Term Servicing Branch = receive the latest security and critical updates for the duration of mainstream support (five years) and extended support (an additional five years). To minimize changes to devices on an LTSB, new features are not delivered.

Device Guard = malware defence on Windows desktop operating system. Hardware and Windows based configuration that that locks down the device such that it can only run certain executable code.

Granular UX Control = customize and lock downs the user experience of a Windows device for task workers, kiosks, IoT/embedded-type functions.

Credential Guard = Ability to store derived credentials.

Start screen control Enables IT to control the Start screen layout that users will see.

DirectAccess = Allows remote users to seamlessly access resources inside a corporate network.

AppLocker = Enables IT to specify what software is allowed to run on a user’s machine.


Downgrade Rights

Below is a table highlighting the downgrade rights for various Windows 10 editions. If the box is grey it means that you cannot downgrade to this version of Windows software.

Downgrade Rights Windows 10 Pro (OEM) Windows 10 Pro (VL) Windows 10 Enterprise (VL) Windows 10 Education (VL)
Windows 8.1 Enterprise YES YES
Windows 8 Enterprise YES YES
Windows 8 /8.1 Pro YES YES YES YES
Windows 7 Enterprise YES YES
Windows 7 Pro YES YES YES
Vista Enterprise YES YES
Vista Business YES YES YES
Windows XP Pro YES YES YES
Windows 2000 Pro YES YES YES
Windows 95/98/NT YES YES YES

Activating Windows 10 Licenses

Windows activation keys and methods are in place to ensure that customer’s copy of Windows is properly licensed. Microsoft has announced that product activation is required for all editions of Windows 10. Volume Activation relates to computers that are covered under a Volume Licensing agreement/subscription.

Key Management Service and Multiple Activation Key

Key Management Service (KMS) allows organizations to activate computers within a users environment through an internally hosted service. Multiple Activation Key (MAK, if there weren’t enough acronyms in SAM!) activates computers on a one-time basis by using the hosted activation services that Microsoft provides.

Microsoft Active Directory

With Active Directory activation, any Windows 10 or Windows Server 2012 R2 computers connected to the domain will activate automatically during setup. Said clients will stay activated as long as they stay in the domain and maintain some sort of contact with a domain controller.

Any other Business

Is there anything within this guide that we may have missed? If so, please leave a comment below or get in touch with us!

Want to know more about Windows 10? Join one of our free Microsoft Licensing events and have your questions answered by our expert Microsoft speakers…

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About David Foxen

David Foxen is a Software Asset Management expert and enthusiast. He had a vast experience of successfully implementing SAM, SAM tools and also made huge cost savings. A member of the ISO Standards WG21, David is a massive ITAM geek, so uses any opportunity to talk about the subject to who-ever will listen. He believes that the industry needs to share its knowledge and success stories to help the SAM industry mature and become more effective. Always willing to help, his primary goal is to make a difference to organisations and the SAM industry so everyone will know how epic SAM is!

One Comment

  1. Niamh says:

    The Windows 10 Pro (VL) should also include Windows 7 Pro as a permitted downgrade.

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