How to get the best deal on Microsoft software in Education

As you probably know, Microsoft sells our software through partners - just like consumer goods manufacturers, or people who make cars, we appoint a range of partners to supply our various products to our customers, including education.

However, there are different types of partner - and knowing about the differences will help you to get the best deal when you are buying academic licences. Let me explain a bit more in a minute, but first I'll explain what our different licences are...

Now, because this is me writing this, without a lawyer over my shoulder, then you can take this as a general guide, but to check anything specific you'll need to consult an official source - start with the Licensing information on the UK Education website, or talk to your Microsoft partner. And all of this info is specifically written with schools in the UK in mind - if you're not from a UK School, you'll definitely need to check with your usual Microsoft partner.

The Windows licence supplied with a new computer

When you buy a new computer there is a standard licence for Windows, which is provided to you by the computer manufacturer.

COAEvery PC you buy should have a Windows licence provided with it (you can easily check to see, by looking for the Certificate of Authenticity (we call it a COA) stuck to the case. You'll need to have this licence to buy Academic upgrades for your Windows, for example to add a Windows Vista Business upgrade, or to move to a higher version (eg from Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows Vista Enterprise Edition). The reason that I've included the last bit, is that it is normally more cost effective to buy a Windows Home Basic/Premium licence with your new PC, and then upgrade to Windows Vista Business or Enterprise through the Select licence scheme (below).

Types of licence - for your other Microsoft software

Step One: For use in an education establishment, always buy an Academic licence.
This is sold at a significantly lower cost than normal commercial licences - normally saving you about 80%. I'm 99% certain you already buy Academic licences, especially if you're buying a few at a time. But it is worth checking if you're not sure.

Step Two: Decide whether you want to buy perpetual or subscription licences.
'Perpetual' licences are exactly what they say - you buy them, and keep the licence forever. You are only licensed for the version you have bought. So if you buy a licence for Office 2003, you can't run Office 2007 without buying another licence.
'Subscription' licences are where you pay to use the software for an agreed amount of time, usually a year. Of course, this costs less up-front, but more over a number of years (but does come with the automatic right to upgrade to newer versions).

Perpetual Licence types
For schools there are two main types - Select and Open licences.

Select Licence
This is normally the best deal of these two types, but there's a catch to be aware of (wouldn't you know it!). Select licences are designed for customers who normally buy lots of software - typically people with 250 PCs or more. In the rest of the world this isn't much of a problem, because local or central governments buy in bulk, on behalf of schools. But here in the UK, each school has complete choice - so you mostly buy individually. Secondary schools are normally large enough to buy Select licences, and most do. But for primary schools, it is normally difficult to reach the minimum purchasing quantities, so what you should do is identify whether you are able to join up into somebody else's Select agreement. For example, if your local authority education team have one (what's called a Master Select Agreement), which you can then buy through. This could save you quite a bit of money. There are other organisations that have these master agreements, like the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), so if you're a member, you can buy through their agreement.

Open Licence
This scheme is normally more expensive than Select, but is handy if you want to just buy a single bit of software quickly, with a copy of the disks etc, and you don't have a Select agreement already in place. For example, if one member of staff needs a copy of Microsoft Project to help plan the new Sports Hall, and you need it now...

Subscription Licence Types
Or more accurately, subscription licence type - because for schools, the subscription is called School Agreement. This is a one year or three year option, where you decide which software you want (maybe a licence to upgrade all of your computers to Windows Vista Enterprise Edition, plus Office 2007 and licences to access a Windows Server and SharePoint server). You then count up all of your computers, and pay a fixed fee for them each year of the agreement. If you increase the number of your computers every year, you pay for those extra ones too. One of the best things about this is that you automatically have the right to upgrade yourself to the latest version - so schools that currently have an Agreement can start using Office 2007 from day one, without having to pay more. But bear in mind, that at the end of the agreement, you either have to continue with a new one, or stop using the software - because you've only paid for the right to use it for a set period of time, not forever. (If neither of these options sound appealing, you could also opt for "buy out" licences - where you convert from a licence for a set period of time to a perpetual licence. The info on that is here)

Phew, we've got this far. Let me summarise:

  • You need a Windows licence with your new PC, which is normally provided by the manufacturer. Consider Select licence upgrades to get from basic versions to the advanced versions of Windows.
  • For all of your other Microsoft software, your best option is to buy a Select licence or a School Agreement licence.

The "Partner" bit

There are two main types of partner that can sell you Academic licences.

  • Education Large Account Resellers (or EdLARs)
    Stop. Just before you think "I'm not a large account" and skip this bit, read on!
    These partners are our largest education partners, and they can sell you any of our Academic licence types. We call them "Large Account Resellers" because they are our largest resellers, not because you have to be "large account" to buy from them. So even the smallest primary school should get a quote from them!
  • Authorised Education Resellers (or AERs)
    These tend to be partners that are either much smaller, or where education customers are just a small part of a bigger business. They can only provide some of the Academic licences I've mentioned above. So you can get a School Agreement or Open Licence from them, you can't get a Select Licence (which is the lower priced of the two perpetual licences).

    I can hear you thinking "So, if AERs can't always sell me the lowest cost licence, why would I buy from them?". Good question.
    Well, back to the example of a small primary school - you may prefer to deal with a bigger company, because you think that's how you get the best value; or you may prefer to deal with a local company, just around the corner, because you think that's how you get the best service. So if you wanted a couple of computers, with the software installed for you, and an agreement that they'll pop around and fix any problems, you could got to a local company, who is a Microsoft AER, and will supply you with Academic licences under the Open scheme. It might cost a little more, but you may be willing to pay for that to get a local supplier. It's your choice.
    You should always check that you get the licence paperwork - for example, the original software CD and the licence key - when you buy an Open Licence, and especially if the software has already been installed for you. If you don't get this, you'll have no proof that you own the licence for the software you are running on those computers.

Okay, let me summarise again:

  • I'd recommend that you always consider buying your Microsoft software from an Education Large Account Reseller, because they can offer you all the possible licence types, including the Select licence option, and therefore can offer the most cost effective one for your circumstances.

Finding the right partner

The UK Education website contains the lists of partners.

EdLARs all work nationally, so there's a page with all of their contact details (at the time of writing, there's 20 to choose from)

AERs tend to work more locally, so you can search in your local area by county or town, or by company name

Licensing can be complex, but it is worth spending a little time to understand a little more - you could save your school money.

Let me ask you a question now - Did this article help you at all? Did it make licensing easier to understand? If I hadn't written this, would you have noticed? Please add a comment to the blog or email me, and let's talk about it... 

Remember what I said at the beginning - because this is me writing this, without a lawyer over my shoulder, then you can take this as a general guide, but to check anything specific you'll need to consult an official source - start with the Licensing information on the UK Education website, or talk to your Microsoft partner. And all of this info is specifically written with schools in the UK in mind - if you're not from a UK School, you'll definitely need to check with your usual Microsoft partner.



Comments (10)

  1. chris horridge says:

    I am due to buy 10 laptop Notebooks  for our school and want to know what the license would cost with windows xp pro and office 2007 on them. and what the cost just for office 2007 would be.

    Also is there a massive difference in cost between office 2003 and office 2007?



  2. Ray Fleming says:

    Hi Chris,

    You will need to talk to one or more of our partners (the links are above for their contact details) for pricing of the different options.

    You’ll have a choice of buying a basic version of Windows and then buying the XP Pro upgrade through the Select scheme, or buying a PC with the XP Pro version pre-installed – but this may be more expensive that the former option. But you can’t by a PC without a Windows licence – you’ll need that whatever version of Windows you decide to use in the future – all the licence upgrades you buy for Windows through the Academic scheme are exactly that ‘upgrades’ from a basic or previous version of Windows.

    With regards to Office 2003/2007 – the licence is the same for both. Basically, you’ll buy a licence for Office 2007 and then you can choose to either use Office 2003 or Office 2007. If you buy an Office licence now, and choose to run Office 2003, you can start using Office 2007 at any point in the future on that machine, without having to buy an upgrade.

    Does that help?


  3. Richard Cornwell says:

    My wife has just started a teaching job and needs to use MS Publisher on our home PC. What is the most cost-effective way to do this? Is a single open license available, or is MS Publisher available via her school using Work at Home licensing rights?



  4. Ray Fleming says:

    Hi Richard,

    There’s a page on the UK Education website that talks about Work at Home rights:

    And that gave the answer:

    If your wife’s school bought the licences under the Select Agreement, then the following two sentences apply:

    “For each licensed copy of Microsoft Office, the primary user of the computer on or from which the product is run may also run a second copy from either a laptop or desktop computer that he/she owns/leases. The software may be used only for work-related purposes and only during the term of the agreement (including any renewals).”

    If your wife’s school has a School Agreement, then they have to have asked for Work at Home rights (which is free), then the main desktop applications they are licensed for have Work at Home rights (which would include Publisher if they’ve licensed that under the School Agreement). The person who orders the School Agreement will know how to order the Work at Home rights – it’s a simple form.

    And, if all else fails, you can buy an Academic Open licence from your normal Microsoft Academic supplier – some of whom run an online shop (see the links towards the top of the page mentioned above).


  5. Students don’t have much money. Christmas is coming – along with a new PC. What do they do about software?

  6. Peter Barnfield says:


    You advise Richard that

    ….if all else fails, you can buy an Academic Open licence from your normal Microsoft Academic supplier.

    This is not really true and is a little misleading.

    Firstly, there is a minimum initial order requirement of 5 licenses under the Open license route as it is not designed for individuals unless they are in a business which trades uner their own name and have 5 or more computers.

    Secondly, as a teacher, his wife could purchase the educational boxed edition herself

    You are correct that Work at Home rights would be applicable under School Agreements if the school included Publisher (or Office, as Publisher is included with this), but if the school had perpetual licenses for either Office or Publisher they could purchase software assurance for the licenses required which would also provides home use rights.

    Peter B

  7. Ray Fleming says:

    Hi Peter,

    You’re correct that I should have said "Academic Edition Fully Packaged Product(FPP)" instead of "Academic Open Licence". The Academic FPP product is the licence that you can buy as a one-off package.

    But the preferred (ie free!) option for teachers is to use the rights to use it on a second PC for work use, or Work at Home Rights.

    You don’t need to have Software Assurance to have these rights. (See the text in my answer above)

    Generally, the rule of thumb is that if you’re a teacher, and you use the software at school, then you’re likely to have the right to use it at home (for school work) through one of the two methods above.



  8. sprince says:

    As you mention above, under the School Agreement desktops need to come with Windows on them, but can then be upgraded to a better version of Windows. Typically, schools will be buying the Home version of Vista or possibly XP and then upgrading to XP Pro.

    I seem to remember from the last time that I waded through the licensing paperwork that there were specific versions of Windows excluded from this so that you couldn’t use a Win98 license (say) as a base OS to upgrade from.

    The question I have is: if I have a Server 2003 or 2008 license on my School Agreement, what is the earliest/cheapest version of Windows I can upgrade from? Does the license specify it has to be in the server family or could I be sneaky and buy a server and an XP license then upgrade that? What about 2000 server which is available cheaper than 2003/2008. At around £450 a time to get an OEM copy of Windows on a Dell server costing less than £1000 it’s a big hit on our budgets.

    Sorry to ask licensing questions!


  9. Cheryll01 says:


    There are certainly specific versions of the Windows OS that you can upgrade from.  There is a really helpful table at:

    You will see that you can actually use your Windows 98 as a base upgrade product for Windows 2000 Pro, XP Pro and even Vista!  Obviously these days with a School Agreement no-one should purchase anything other than the cheapest OEM versions going which include Vista Home Basic, Starter Edition and Vista Home Premium.

    If you’re upgrading servers then say for Windows Server, you could upgrade from Windows Server NT to 2008 using School Agreement or Select – albeit they are not upgrades in the sense of Windows Desktop OS upgrades as other than that range of products there are no straightforward upgrades available.

    If you have Servers on your School Agreement there is no need for you to purchase any OEM Server products as you would already be licenced – subject to you having purchased additional server licences on your School Agreement to cover that particular purchase.  Being an OEM as well as an EdLAR, we regularly install Server products under customer’s School or Select Agreements rather than selling them OEM licences.  All we need as an OEM is proof that you have the relevant agreement and because of product activation, if you don’t hold your School Agreement through us, we would ask you for the volume licence key (VLK) for that version of the server.

    What everyone should remember when buying Desktop OS products is to buy the cheapest OEM version available if you have a School Agreement that includes Desktop School or stand-alone Windows Upgrades because you have already paid for them so why pay twice.  Also when buying Servers, again if you have a School or Select Agreement and can purchase/add servers under those agreements, make use of these as they are often 1/20th – 1/10th the cost of an OEM Server product.

    I hope this helps.


    Cheryl Lapham

    General Manager Software Division

    Viglen Ltd

  10. sprince says:


    That is very helpful thanks and does fit with a conversation I had with a contact at another EdLAR since the posting I made above.

    One of the things I found surprising is that it seems to make no difference what the OEM license was when you buy out of a Schools Agreement. That is certainly interesting to us as we are now looking to the next few years to decide whether to pay the (1.75 * subscription) and stay on a steady OS platform until the new version of Windows in 2010-ish.


    Sam Prince

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