By Jeff Trager
Like PCs, most IoT devices require an operating system. While some of these devices use Linux, many run Windows. When it comes to licensing Windows to run on an IoT device, there are generally two options
- Windows Pro or Windows IoT Enterprise. Although both of these editions are based on the same base code, there are significant differences between the two. As such, organizations must carefully consider which editions will be the best fit based on their own unique needs.
The Difference Between Windows Pro and Windows IoT Enterprise
Windows Pro is designed to act as a general-purpose operating system that is geared toward “open-ended” devices used by business users and consumers. As such, it includes features and applications that are meant for use by the end user. Windows Pro lets users access all the capabilities of their PCs and, thanks to its well-established GUI, is easy for customers to use right out of the box. Conversely, Windows IoT Enterprise is meant for use in embedded systems, particularly fixed-function or locked-down devices. As such, Windows IoT Enterprise includes some additional tools that are designed to help OEMs secure and stabilize their devices. Additionally, the IoT in the description indicates the software is licensed through the Microsoft Windows IoT Channel, which is for OEMs who are building systems to serve industry applications. It should also be stated that these OS share the same code base and that Windows Pro is a subset of Windows IoT.
Pricing and Availability
Another major difference between Windows Pro and Windows IoT Enterprise is the way that they are sold and licensed. Windows Pro is available from a variety of sources. It is sometimes included with new PCs, but it can also be purchased either directly from Microsoft or from a Microsoft partner.
While Windows IoT Enterprise is intended for use on IoT/embedded systems (typically edge devices), you cannot simply go online to download the software or purchase a license. The software and licenses are only available to OEMs once they execute the Microsoft OEM Customer License Agreement. Licenses are only available from a small number of specialized Microsoft Authorized Distributors.
Windows Pro and Windows IoT Enterprise also differ in terms of licensing costs. A Windows Pro/ Enterprise license retails for approximately $199.99, although it is sometimes possible to get a discount when purchasing in large quantities. The license cost remains fixed regardless of the device that the license is used on. Windows IoT Enterprise is different in that the license cost is based on the hardware’s CPU.
Microsoft sells four different types of licenses for Windows 10/11 IoT Enterprise:
The lowest-cost license is for the Arm-based edition of Windows 10/11 IoT Enterprise designed for small devices with very low power requirements.
Another low-cost license is known as an “Entry” license and is meant for use on low-end devices that are equipped with an Atom or similar processor.
Microsoft requires mid-level CPUs to have a “Value” license. A Value license can be used with embedded systems running Intel i3 or i5 processors, or other CPUs with similar capabilities.
Finally, Microsoft has a “High-End” license that can be used on devices with Intel i7, i9, Xeon processors, or something comparable. The price for this IoT license would still be lower then what may be found when sourcing Windows 10/11 Pro Editions.
The reason why Microsoft licenses Windows IoT Enterprise this way is to better align the license cost with the cost of the device itself. Suppose, for example, that an OEM were able to build a low-end device equipped with an Atom processor for $100. It would not make sense to use a Windows Pro license with the device because with a license price of $199.99, the Windows license would triple the cost of the device. To keep that from happening, Microsoft bases the price of a Windows IoT license on the type of processor that it is running on.
The Windows Lifecycle
Windows Pro and Windows IoT Enterprise also have very different lifecycles and requirements.
As previously noted, Windows Pro is meant for general-purpose computing. As such, Windows Pro deployments typically require a product key to be entered so that the license can be activated. Microsoft also requires Windows Pro devices to receive periodic updates. Windows spring releases have an 18-month lifecycle, while fall releases have a 30-month lifecycle. If the particular Windows release that is running on a device is older than its stated lifecycle, then the device is considered to be out of support. To remain under support the end user is required to update the OS to the most current release from Microsoft.
Windows IoT Enterprise runs on embedded systems that are often manufactured in bulk and that may or may not ultimately be connected to the Internet. That being the case, Microsoft does not require each device to have a unique license key as is required of Windows Pro. Instead, a single license key can be used with up to 50,000 devices. This means that the license key can be embedded into a golden image, greatly simplifying the deployment process.
The product lifecycle is also vastly different. Whereas Windows Pro builds have an 18-month lifecycle, the lifecycle for a Windows IoT Enterprise deployment from the long-term servicing branch is 10 years.
Another key difference is that while updates can be applied to a device running Windows IoT Enterprise, updates are not required. Part of the reason for this is that Microsoft knows that some devices have limited connectivity, thus making updates impractical. More importantly, however, applying an untested update to an embedded device can potentially cause the device to malfunction. Such a malfunction could have devastating consequences if the device were used in a hospital or other critical-care environment. That’s why updates are not mandatory for devices running Windows IoT Enterprise. Of course, from a security standpoint, it’s still good practice to apply Microsoft’s security updates to Windows IoT Enterprise devices periodically, as those updates provide protection against new and emerging malware and other security threats.
In addition, Advantech is able to help customers with the Windows licensing process. Advantech’s staff includes a dedicated Windows software licensing specialist with over 20 years of experience who is readily available to help customers figure out how best to license their IoT devices. ■