In his usual witty style, my colleague Drew Haney provided a review of Windows 8.1 last week. In his post, he mentioned the different versions of Window 8.1: Windows 8.1 RT, Windows 8.1 Pro, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise. (And for the record, there is also “plain vanilla” Windows 8.1 as well.) Many people are familiar with Windows RT (which only comes on the cheapest versions of the Surface tablet), and they are familiar with regular Windows and Windows Professional as well.

But what is Windows Enterprise and how do you get it?

What Is It and What Does It Do?

Windows 8.1 Enterprise is a version of Windows that is only available as a Software Assurance (SA) benefit. It is the most robust version of Windows available today, and to get the extra features you must go the extra mile in your commitment with Microsoft by buying  SA. Unlike Windows 8.1 Pro and plain vanilla Windows 8.1, it is not available as a “stand-alone” purchase.

A feature set of all four versions of Windows 8.1 is available here. On that list, you can see that Windows 8.1 Enterprise offers these unique features:

  • Start screen control
  • Windows To Go Creator
  • AppLocker
  • BranchCache
  • DirectAccess
  • VDI enhancements

You can learn more about these features on Microsoft’s website here and decide if they are for you.

How Do I Get It?

As Drew said in his post, if you are already licensed for Windows 8 Enterprise (in other words, you have a Windows 8 Pro license with SA), then you can download Windows 8.1 Enterprise off the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center. Simply log into the site and go to the tab marked “Downloads and Keys.” There you will find a link to download the new software.

If you are not licensed for Windows 8 Enterprise, then you have a couple of options. If you’re up for a hardware refresh, then you can purchase new PCs with Windows Pro and then purchase Software Assurance for the licenses included on those new machines. Microsoft provides a 90-day window (no pun intended) for you to add SA to OEM licenses. (For more details on OEM licenses, see my previous post here.)

If you’re not interested in buying new machines at this point, then the other option is to purchase Windows Pro upgrade licenses with SA through volume licensing. You can either go with Open Business licenses which provides two years of SA and requires an upfront payment, or you can go with Open Value licenses which provides three years of SA and includes an option to spread out your payments. (I’ll be writing a blog post on these programs soon which will provide more details.)

If you have over 250 PCs in your company, then you could also purchase Windows upgrade licenses and SA through a Select Plus or Enterprise Agreement. Non-profit, academic, and government customers have a similar set of options through special licensing programs designed just for them. The point is that you will need to purchase a Windows 8 Pro upgrade license with SA in order to get a license of Windows Enterprise.

Either way you go, either buying new PCs or buying upgrade licenses, you will need to purchase Software Assurance. Again, Windows 8.1 Enterprise is a Software Assurance benefit and cannot be purchased separately.

What Happens If My SA Expires?

But what if you jump through all the hoops to get your Windows licenses covered with SA, but then you let your licensing agreement expire? When the agreement expires, then your SA benefits expire too, right? So is your Enterprise license revoked? Do you have to uninstall Windows Enterprise and downgrade back to Windows Pro?!? Is this what Yoda once warned us about? “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

Just calm down. Take a deep breath. And don’t worry.

Fortunately this is an area where Microsoft gives some grace. If you purchase a Windows Pro license with SA and upgrade your device to Windows Enterprise, then you do not need to downgrade back to Windows Pro after the SA expires. Microsoft lets you keep that license, so you can proceed with confidence.

More information about Windows 8.1 Enterprise is available on Microsoft’s website here. And as always, Mirazon is here to help.  We can guide you through the confusing terrain of Microsoft licensing so you can avoid unnecessary purchases.

Reach out to us at or give us a call at 502-240-0404 with questions about your upcoming Windows upgrade.