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Microsoft Changing Virtualization Tools Support Policy for Windows 10 Pro Users

Microsoft this week announced a coming change to its support for two virtualization tools, but it just applies to Windows 10 Pro edition users.

The product support change affects Microsoft's Application Virtualization (App-V) and User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) tools that are typically obtained as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) suite of enterprise tools. MDOP, in turn, is typically purchased as part of Software Assurance (SA) coverage, which is an annuity benefits arrangement on top of software licensing and agreements.

The App-V and UE-V tools will go away when an organization upgrades the current Windows 10 Pro edition to the "anniversary update" that's scheduled to arrive on Aug. 2, Microsoft announced, in a blog post.

To continue using App-V and UE-V, these Windows 10 Pro users with plans to upgrade to the anniversary update will have to first upgrade their systems to use the Windows 10 Enterprise or Education editions, Microsoft's announcement explained:

If you are using Windows Professional, when you upgrade to the Windows 10 Anniversary Update and your organization uses App-V and UE-V for management functionality, you will need to upgrade to the Enterprise or Education edition. Direct upgrades to the Pro SKU will result in App-V and UE-V binaries to be removed during the OS migration process.

Built-In Tools
Microsoft also announced that it is planning to build App-V and UE-V directly into the Windows Enterprise and Education editions. Those virtualization tools will be part of the Windows 10 anniversary update and will be equivalent to the App-V 5.1 and UE-V 2.1 Service Pack 1 tools that get shipped in the current MDOP 2015 bundle. In addition, App-V and UE-V are being built into the Windows Server 2016 Datacenter edition, Microsoft announced.

The inclusion of those tools in Windows operating systems likely will benefit organizations because it eliminates having to chase after updates, explained Wes Miller, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, an independent consultancy, in a phone call today.

These built-in versions of App-V and UE-V will be automatically updated. "Future updates to App-V and UE-V will be delivered as part of general Windows updates and will not require any separate administrative steps," Microsoft's announcement explained. The mechanism of delivery will be the operating system's Windows Update service, a Microsoft spokesperson clarified, via e-mail.

Microsoft's App-V and UE-V development approach is changing, too. It appears to be reaching an end for older Windows editions. "Future enhancements to App-V and UE-V will only be available for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update or later," Microsoft's announcement stated.

Microsoft seems to be indicating "deprecation" of sorts for App-V and UE-V when used with older Windows versions, meaning that it will stop development efforts on those tools for Windows versions older than the anniversary update. However, Microsoft's announcement didn't use that terminology. The spokesperson denied it:

We are not deprecating the App-V or UE-V products. App-V and UE-V, as part of the MDOP 2015 release, will continue to be supported on Windows 7, 8/8.1, and Windows 10 Pro prior to the Anniversary Update. 

It's not clear that deprecation is the right term, according to Miller.

"If there's any deprecation, it's a technical one -- the fact that you could deploy on Pro and stay on Pro, even if you had rights to Enterprise," Miller said. "Now you can't. If you want these components, you'll need to deploy Enterprise."

Microsoft's lifecycle support policy for tools states that Microsoft must give "a 12-month advance notice" before terminating support for them. In this case, though, it seemed like a one-month notice was given, although arguably access to the tools is still available by moving to the Enterprise edition of Windows 10.

Support for Older Windows Versions
Windows 10 anniversary edition appears to be the line in the sand with regard to these App-V and UE-V policy changes. I asked Microsoft if an organization is using Windows Server 2012/R2 and Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 clients, will they still have access to App-V and UE-V from the standalone MDOP toolkit? The short answer is "Yes," and even older Windows 10 versions will have MDOP support. Here's how the spokesperson explained it:

There are not changes being made to down-level versions: Windows Server 2012, Windows 7/8.1 Clients will continue to support App-V 5.1 and UE-V 2.1. Windows 10 Pro Anniversary Edition will not support App-V and UE-V. However all older Windows 10 releases (Windows 10 1507 and 1511, Pro, Enterprise and Education; Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB 2015) still support the App-V and UE-V from the standalone MDOP kit.

In addition, there is no change to Microsoft's product lifecycle support policies for MDOP for these older Windows editions, according to the spokesperson. Microsoft's update approach for App-V and UE-V doesn't change either.

It's Complicated
Microsoft tweaked some user rights when it first released Windows 10. And while it might seem that Microsoft is taking something away from Windows 10 Pro users, they didn't actually have the rights to use MDOP (with access to the App-V and UE-V tools) in the first place, according to Miller.

"Organizations that had bought devices with Pro or upgraded to Pro never had rights to MDOP," Miller said.

Microsoft made MDOP a SA benefit of sorts for some Windows 10 users, although it added the cost of MDOP into SA pricing as well.

"When Windows [10] arrived in Aug. 2015, it removed the requirement to license MDOP independently, but raised prices an equivalent amount. Basically, it made MDOP an outright SA benefit," Miller said.

Microsoft's announcement argued that organizations with SA benefits with Windows 10 already have the rights to use the Enterprise edition of Windows 10. Therefore, there's no extra cost for Windows 10 Pro users to upgrade to the Enterprise edition and continue to use the App-V and UE-V tools.

"Most organizations who have Software Assurance are already using Windows Enterprise, so there are no extra steps or costs required," Microsoft's announcement contended.

Organizations using older Windows versions had to pay extra to get MDOP on top of SA, Miller explained.

"Prior to Windows 10, licensing MDOP required adding SA to Windows Pro (which is what qualifies the divide for a license for Enterprise), plus an additional fee for MDOP," Miller explained. "If SA was dropped, several benefits were lost, including the ability to run MDOP."

It's that latter scenario, where organizations dropped SA coverage, that might complicate matters.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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