Customer Access Under Microsoft MSDN Developer Licenses

Microsoft’s MSDN subscription licenses often create license compliance problems.  These problems arise because it is extremely easy to over deploy Microsoft software using MSDN media because it includes a vast array of Microsoft products with limited deployment controls.  In addition, the licensing rules related to MSDN are often misunderstood.  One often overlooked aspect of Microsoft MSDN licensing is customer access to development projects for purposes of testing, quality assurance, or feedback.

Microsoft has published a white paper clarifying the licensing rules regarding MSDN licensing. The white paper describes the following use cases where unlicensed users including certain third-parties may access software deployed under MSDN subscriptions:

Demonstration Using Terminal Services
MSDN subscriptions permit the use of the Windows Server Remote Desktop Services for up to 200 simultaneous, anonymous users to access an online demonstration of your programs. These anonymous users do not need an MSDN subscription. Nonetheless, an MSDN subscriber can use Remote Desktop Services for development and testing as they can for any other software included in their subscription.

Acceptance Testing
At the end of a software development project, end users (or team members such as a business sponsor or product manager acting as proxies for end users, particularly in cases where it’s infeasible or impossible for the actual end users of the program to participate) typically review an application and determine whether it meets the necessary criteria for release—a process often called user acceptance testing or UAT. The software may be accessed by end users who do not have an MSDN subscription for purposes of acceptance testing, provided that the use of the software otherwise complies with all MSDN licensing terms. It is rare that someone whose primary role is designing, developing, or testing the software would also qualify as an “end user.”

Acceptance testing must not use live production data. If a copy of any live production data is used, then that copy of the data must be discarded after the testing is complete and cannot be incorporated back into the live production data.

End users can download the free Feedback Client for TFS and access the software to review your application and provide feedback. An MSDN subscription is not needed for end users accessing the software in order to provide feedback. The end user is not testing the application, which would require an MSDN subscription.

If your business covers any of its Microsoft deployments using MSDN licenses, reviewing the licensing guidance from Microsoft and consulting an experienced attorney may reduce your potential compliance exposure in any future Microsoft audit.