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Microsoft raises tablet virtualization licenses to stave off iPad threat

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In a bid to slow iPad adoption by enterprise customers, Microsoft has created an add-on licensing fee for tablets running virtualization programs to access Windows applications on corporate servers.

As its next-generation tablet lineup prepares to hit the consumer market, Microsoft has tacked on an optional Companion Device License (CDL) to the existing Software Assurance (SA) volume licensing agreement for Windows 8, which enterprise customers will need to deploy desktop virtualization apps on non-Windows tablets, reports CRN.

Large corporations already covered by SA agreements will have to pay the additional fee if they want to use virtualization software, with each CDL license granting the use of up to four iPads or Android tablets.

The licensing change will not affect upcoming Windows RT tablets which will automatically receive licensing rights free of charge, according to Microsoft. Windows RT is the naming scheme given to devices that run on ARM processors rather than traditional x86 silicon which carry the basic monikers "Windows 8" and "Windows 8 Pro."

"These rights will provide access to a full VDI image running in the datacenter which will make Windows RT a great complementary tablet option for business customers," said Erwin Visser, senior director in the Windows Commercial Group.

The move will make it more expensive for larger entities already invested in multi-year licenses for Microsoft software to employ tablets. Customers that do not already have SA commitments may benefit from the new CDL, however, as Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license costs $100 per device per year.

Source: Microsoft

In order to access a company's Windows environment, tablets need to run desktop virtualization software like offerings from Citrix or VMWare. Currently, SA "Roaming Rights" are thought to be restrictive and don't apply to individually-owned devices. Microsoft's FAQs say that Roaming Rights are limited to "a device that is not controlled, directly or indirectly, by you or your affiliates (e.g., a third party's public kiosk)." Going further, these devices can only connect to public networks like those found at cafes.

The restrictions impacted virtualization app makers but not Microsoft as they didn't have competing technology at the time. Now that the Redmond-based company is ready to enter the tablet market with Windows 8, the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been reconfigured to allow for a more relaxed set of rules.

"The SA Roaming Right rules never hurt Microsoft much, because it didn't sell a competitive tablet with an embedded OS," said Paul DeGroot, principal analyst at Microsoft licensing consultant Pica Communications. "But when it does — when Windows RT devices hit the street — the SA Roaming Right restrictions suddenly disappear, and remote access to VDI from company-owned or personally owned devices over company networks is OK."

Apple's iPad has seen tremendous growth in both the consumer and enterprise markets, and some analysts estimate that the tablet will one day outperform the PC market as a whole. Microsoft's first Windows 8 tablets are expected to arrive this fall.