Microsoft’s Big Blunder in Windows Server 2012 [Updated]

Try before you buy Windows Server? Not anymore…

Windows Server is facing a big challenge both in the traditional enterprise and in the cloud. Linux continues to gain momentum, especially as we see growth in the adoption of cloud and virtualization, driven in part by the fact that these cool and agile Linux distributions come at the wonderful price of ZERO.

Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 is a solid server platform, even for remote, hosted and cloud environments (providing you secure it with Dome9, of course). One of the early strategic advantages of Windows Server 2008 was that Microsoft made it practical to evaluate the platform by letting developers install the OS and postpone licensing for 60 days. If after 60 days you didn’t activate a license, Microsoft would nag you, stop optional updates, shut off the free anti-malware, and disable a few other services. This approach made a lot of sense. It made the platform accessible for the developer community to try and test (i.e., gain experience) and then, at production time, they’d could procure a licensed server or buy a license.

No Valid Licence Key? No Eval 4 You!

Yesterday, however, when I tried to install Windows Server 2012 on our test OpenStack cloud, I experienced something very different. We have a valid MSDN account, so I was free to download the Windows Server 2012 ISO. But when it came to installing the server, WINDOWS IMMEDIATELY DEMANDED A VALID LICENSE KEY. This is a big fumble, Microsoft! You lost me there, because I I’m not going to use a valid production-worthy key on a virtual instance that I’m simply experimenting / testing on.

Microsoft used to follow this draconian licensing policy, but I’d hoped (maybe naively) that this had changed. From the very beginning through up to Windows 2003, XP and then Vista, users had to enter a valid license key before they could install Windows. But then with Windows 7 and Server 2008, Microsoft realized (at least I thought they did) that we (as customers) have a choice, and they allowed us to first install and try the OS and delay activation. Apparently, this is no longer the case!

This is a big step backwards for Microsoft – a big and strategic blunder! Hopefully it’s not too late for Microsoft to realize and fix it!

UPDATE Oct 3rd 2012: The good people at Microsoft told us that there is a specific Windows Server 2012 Evaluation ISO that is good for 180 days.

Wonder what happens on day 181?

It requires re-registration (even if you have an MSDN account), but it works. Here’s the link:

Oh wait, there’s another link “For Developers” with a much shorter registration form. :) Here it is:

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  • Keegan

    Hey this is Keegan from
    Microsoft. Just wanted to let you know that we actually do have a 180-day
    Windows Server 2012 trial intended for exactly the kind of scenario you discuss
    in this article. The software you downloaded through MSDN is a benefit
    for subscribers allowing access to the non-trial full version of the product.
    The evaluation version you are looking for can be found here: If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us on Twitter @WindowsServer

    • Zohar Alon

      Hey Keegan! Thanks for sharing but is this build the same as the one on MSDN? What happens after 180 days? Can you turn it into a fully working server w/o reinstalling?

      The point is that there was a change in policy from 2008 and that’s my concern.

      • Patrick Pushor

        I’m interested to know as well if the eval version can then be licensed without reinstalling.

  • Yamikotai

    If it’s the same case as with Windows 8, there’s a generic license key you can enter that it will accept but not actually try and activate with.

    • Zohar Alon

      Don’t let the beta/preview versions fool you – the final release is what matters. Windows Server 2012 preview and beta also let you install without a licenses, but in the actual release it wasn’t the case.

  • Chuck S

    Yes, the demo can be licensed without reinstalling. I’ve done it.