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I’ve worked with Microsoft since Windows 3.1 and bought Windows 95 when it was first released. These days we deal with clients who have anything from 1 PC to thousands. I’m always intrigued to hear how they license their software, or think they license their software!

Upon further investigation I’m normally asked “what my options” are so I’ve summarised the most common Microsoft options below.


  • You purchase a license of the software.
  • The product is installed onto your chosen PC and it is non-transferable so if you upgrade, you have to buy another copy.
  • This is normally a cheap way to license, however, it is very limiting

Retail / Box Product

  • You purchase and own a copy of the product and the Microsoft license. When the newer version comes out you can either buy a new copy or upgrade your copy.
  • You can add Software  Assurance which is approximately 30% of the cost, to allow you upgrade when new software is  released and this provides 2 years upgrade protection .
  • As it’s all yours you can transfer it to another PC should you wish to change hardware. In some instances you are allowed to install the software on a PC and a Laptop if you own them.
  • Costs vary depending on the version of the product

Open Volume Subscription

  • You’re licensed to use the software from Microsoft on a lease basis, i.e. you never own the software.
  • You must have a minimum of 5 computers to license
  • You only need to advise Microsoft on each anniversary how many computers you want to license.
  • It’s very flexible – You can scale up and down freely without cost and use the same license without informing Microsoft until the agreements anniversary.
  • You get the best versions of software
  • You have Software Assurance built in, so as soon as the latest version is released, you have access to download and install.
  • There are a number of additional benefits like the Employee Home Use program, access to TechNet plus, phone support to name but a few.
  • Software and License keys are always available  as its stored in your Microsoft Licensing Portal.
  • Should you want to exit and still be licensed you can “buy” your way out .
  • Tax efficient –as the license is leased the cost of it can be claimed back against corporation tax

There are many other solutions, Select and Enterprise to name but a few more, but I feel the above are the most relevant to SMEs.

Which one is right for me?

OVS is good for businesses that are looking to or needing to upgrade or expanding as it provides flexibility and peace of mind that you’re licensed.  If you are up to date with your software or don’t plan on expanding then OEM or Retail might be right for you.

By working out where your business will be in 3 and 6 years time and calculating the software requirements, this will give you a pretty good idea of the solution that fits your business requirements.

What’s your experience of Microsoft Licensing and what benefits can you justify to your board?

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