Microsoft TechNet– Download & License Keys Reminder

Microsoft Technet keysAs many of you know, Microsoft have decided to retire their TechNet software download and licensing subscription service, with the last day being the 31st August 2014.  This is a real blow to the many IT Professionals out there who use TechNet to keep their Microsoft product skills honed, and who also use it to further teach themselves about Microsoft products in their own non-production lab environment.  Microsoft are instead suggesting that IT Pros now use “free evaluation resources”,which consist of the following:

TechNet Evaluation Center: Free access to download and evaluate the latest Microsoft products with no feature limits. Based on customer feedback, the program also provides access to some prior versions of Microsoft software, including Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and others. Evaluation time limits vary by product and are based on typical customer needs, with server trials lasting 180 days.

TechNet Virtual Labs: Free online testing environments, designed to be completed in fewer than 2 hours, without the need to install evaluation bits locally.

The benefit of both of these options is that they are free!  Free is good, though it all comes back to the age-old equation/quandary of time versus money.  Although the TechNet Evaluation Center and Virtual Labs are free (money), what they lack is the ability to provide IT Pros with the opportunity to create and run their own permanent (time) Microsoft based lab  (ie: non-production) environments. 

Microsoft TechNet Subscription EndedSpeaking from experience, I have, and continue to, invest significant amounts of time in building and running my own lab infrastructure, running a number of Microsoft products from which I learn a great deal as well as conducting some personal proof of concept projects.  The last thing I want to do is have to rebuild this environment every 180 or so days, I personally want to know that the time I am investing in building out my lab environment is well invested, and that I won’t have to go re-inventing the wheel in 6 months time.  Now, 6 months may sound like a long time, and in fairness it kind of is, though in our busy and fast paced IT worlds this time can, and almost always does, pass in a flash. Lab based projects or learning is often put on hold whilst real-life (eg: non-lab related work, family, etc) takes over our spare time.

The TechNet Virtual Labs are a good idea, though the 2 hour time limit doesn’t provide you with enough time to really get your teeth sunk into a particular product or create your own semi-complex custom environment.  Rather you’d probably find yourself accessing a virtual lab instance to learn or investigate a couple of features at a time and leave the more detailed or complex set-ups to the Microsoft evaluation products (> 180 days). 

Anyway, all of this is something of a moot point since unfortunately as there hasn’t been any indication from Microsoft, despite a petition with a significant number of signatures from global IT Pros, that they will be re-instating the TechNet subscription downloads and license keys any time soon.

So, those of you with an existing Microsoft TechNet subscription are likely downloading any ISO images you think you’ll need for your lab before your subscription expires as after this time you will lose this ability (see image below):

Microsoft TechNet Download Expired

It would appear that although you can’t download the ISO images after your subscription has expired, your license keys (at least those that you have claimed – you can only claim >10 new keys per subscription per day) are still available for viewing.  Whether your TechNet subscription license keys will be approved via the online Microsoft license registration process after your subscription expiry is unknown to me, as I haven’t tried.

One thing to bear in mind is that if it is possible to use your pre-claimed licenses after your TechNet subscription have expired then there will no doubt be some legal considerations, as your subscription has technically expired so you should no longer use those license keys. 

I personally can’t justify the extra significant cost of an MSDN subscription, which would provide me with access to Microsoft license keys again, so I will likely have to start looking at alternative products (eg: Linux OS, etc) to run and start learning in my lab environment.  Of course I will continue to run Microsoft products, though not for anything that I may want to run for an extended period of time.

I understand the piracy implications associated with the TechNet subscription that Microsoft faces and why they did what they did, though it’s just unfortunate that so many IT Pros and Microsoft advocates will no longer have this great subscription resource readily available to them.  I wouldn’t be opposed to a Cloud based TechNet subscription where you were perhaps allocated a block of resource that you could divide amongst the VMs in your Cloud environment.  This wouldn’t stop people running production VMs using a TechNet subscription (perhaps limit the level of inbound/outbound traffic?) though would help dramatically in Microsoft’s fight against piracy.

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