In another example of history repeating itself, Microsoft has revealed plans to introduce device-based subscription for Office 365 Pro Plus. After years and years of evangelizing the benefits of the subscription-based model, which is tied in to the user identify, the powers that be finally caved to the thousands of organizations out there that have users working on shared devices. For the majority of these scenarios, neither the user-based subscription model nor the shared computer activation model worked, so it’s nice to finally see this addressed in a more satisfying manner.
Now, to be fair Microsoft did release a device-based licensing feature a while back, however it was only available for EDU customers and only in the US. In case you have missed the news on that front, you can find some information here. With the new bits, not only Microsoft will expand the scope to the feature beyond just EDU customers in the US, but they will also bring some usability improvements. Most notably “device users” are no more and the feature is controlled based on the device objects themselves, which in turn means you will need to have them represented in Azure AD (either as Azure AD joined or Azure AD Hybrid joined). Yes, that implies Windows 10 devices, and no word so far for support for down-level ones.
To facilitate the device-based licensing model, the Licensing page in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center has been updated to recognize devices as valid objects for licensing, at least when it comes to the Office 365 Pro Plus (device) SKU. Well technically, it will only accept a group that has the devices as its members, not the devices directly. And you seem to be limited to a single group currently. To create the actual group, you will have to leverage the Azure AD portal or PowerShell, as the Microsoft 365 Admin Center still doesn’t support device objects or adding such objects to a group.
On the user front, users will get access to the “standard” desktop apps regardless of their own license. They will get the full functionality of the apps and will also be able to use “connected services” as long as they are logged in with their organizational account. Applications such as Outlook, OneDrive or Teams will of course require users to have a valid account to be configured, and for that the user will require a corresponding, user-level product license. If the user access the device without being logged in with an Azure AD account (as in they are using local account on the device), they will still be able to use the full set of features in the desktop apps, sans the connected/cloud services.
Compared to the good old “Shared computer activation” model, device-based licensing offers few benefits. Those include no limits on the number sign-ins for any given time period, whereas the shared computer activation model was limited to 20 activations per week. It also required the actual user object to have a valid Office Pro Plus license, and in turn a valid Azure AD sign-in. Device-based subscription on the other hand will allow anyone to access the desktop Office apps, regardless of the presence of Azure AD user object or license, as long as they can login to the device itself.
The current expectation is to have this feature broadly available sometime around summer 2020, but plans can of course change. To get some additional details, watch the New and flexible way to use Office 365 ProPlus on your shared devices session. If you want to be a part of the preview, you can submit a request via the following form. The publicly available documentation still only refers to the EDU offering, but can also give you some additional details on how the process will work.