Significant changes are coming to Microsoft TechNet. If your organization uses TechNet software for planning or testing, you may need to modify your approach.
TechNet has really evolved over the years. Ten years ago, TechNet subscribers received large binders that were (sometimes literally) bursting at the seams. These binders contained a treasure trove of Microsoft software. They contained CDs or DVDs for practically every Microsoft product (with Microsoft Flight Simulator being the notable exception), and also DVDs for every conceivable localization. For example, when Windows XP was released, the TechNet binder must have included 15 to 20 different XPs, one for each language. I still occasionally break out the Chinese or Arabic DVDs, just to mess with friends.
Microsoft has long since given up the binders and physical media that were for so long a staple of the TechNet subscription. While the move away from physical media was a big change, the biggest changes to TechNet have occurred within the last year.
Late last year, Microsoft announced it was going to stop including consumer-oriented software in TechNet subscriptions. The original announcement said that TechNet was geared toward business environments, so consumer-grade software really didn't fit in with TechNet's true purpose. The change ultimately meant that operating systems such as Windows 7 Ultimate were removed. I personally suspect that this change had something to do with preventing software piracy.
More recently, Microsoft announced it is retiring the TechNet subscription program entirely. The purpose of the TechNet subscription has always been to allow organizations to evaluate Microsoft software prior to purchase. Since Microsoft now makes evaluation software freely available for download on its website, there is presumably no need for organizations to subscribe to a paid TechNet subscription.
While this idea sounds logical on the surface, the changes could mean that some organizations will have to rethink the way they do things, especially with regard to planning for software upgrades or deployments.
TechNet software was licensed for nonproduction use, and the software did not have an expiration date so long as the TechNet subscription remained in effect. Thus many organizations have been using TechNet software to build lab environments for deployment and upgrade testing. For instance, if an organization were contemplating an upgrade to Windows 8, it might build a small-scale lab environment that mimics its production environment and then work through the Windows 8 deployment process in that lab.
While it will still be possible to do this using evaluation software downloaded from the Microsoft website, most of Microsoft's evaluation software has an expiration date. This shouldn't be a big deal for short-term testing, but it will be problematic for those who use their lab environments on an ongoing basis. For example, some organizations may initially build a lab environment as a way of testing a new operating system, but may keep that lab environment in place for the purpose of testing new applications or new patches. This approach simply cannot be used if the evaluation software is set to expire on a certain date.
The other issue with downloading evaluation software from the Microsoft website is that doing so may lead to sales calls. I recently downloaded a preview release of Windows Server 2012 R2. Shortly after doing so, I received multiple sales calls from representatives at Microsoft who wanted to evaluate my software needs.
The good news is that those who want to build semi-permanent lab environments will still have some options for doing so. One option is to subscribe to MSDN. Even though TechNet subscriptions are going away, MSDN remains a viable option for those who need non-expiring evaluation software.
Another option is to take a look at Windows Azure. Although Windows Azure does not offer as much software as is available on MSDN, it is a decent option for building a lab environment in the cloud.
It's really kind of sad to see Microsoft retiring TechNet subscriptions after all this time. Even so, I'm glad to see that MSDN remains as a viable option for former TechNet subscribers.