Do you have MSDN at work? Use Visual Studio Ultimate for free at home?

Are you a professional developer? Do you get an MSDN from your organisation? Did you know that you can use it at home on both commercial and open source projects of your own!

MSDN subscriptions are licensed on a per-user basis.  One person can use the software to design, develop, test, or demonstrate his or her programs on any number of devices.  Each person who uses the software this way needs a license.
MSDN Licencing

That’s right, the MSDN that you company bought you entitles you to run Windows, Office & Visual Studio in production at home. Its a licence for YOU and not just for them.

Figure: Over 11 terabytes of data on MSDN

I was talking to Mark Groves at the MVP Summit and I had a double-take when he mentioned that most developers don’t know that you get a take-home licence with you MSDN. I was surprise because I have know and taken advantage of this for the better part of 8 years, and I was even more surprised when he mentioned that Scott Hanselman was also unaware of this. This is an awesome benefit to being a Microsoft developer and I can’t believe that it is not more well known.

Figure: You get Azure time as well

On top of that you get a number of other benefits. You get the Azure time above and you also get the ability to run an almost limitless number of development boxes as well. Basically for a developer with MSDN you can almost run “whatever” at home and be fully licenced and I have never encountered anyone who has maxed out their instances.

The thing that I tend to find that is not done is the assignment of MSDN licences that a company has bough to the individuals that are using it. What companies really don’t understand is that no matter how many MSDN licences that they own, they are not licenced to use any of it unless they are assigned to individual Live ID’s.

MSDN subscriptions are only offered per individual, there are no “team” subscriptions or sharing of subscription benefits.
MSDN Licencing

In most companies that I do work for the operations team hoards the MSDN’s so those pesky developers can’t download on the network. But this, my dear ops guys means that you are using software illegally within your company, so get over it and assign those  MSDN subscription to those that they were bought for!

Did you EVER have an MSDN? Another of those little known things about an MSDN is that it is perpetual. That is that you can use forever the software that became available when you received your MSDN.

In most cases, MSDN subscriptions come with “perpetual” use rights—the ability to continue using the software after the subscription has expired, even though the ability to download software and product keys ends when the subscription expires.
MSDN Licencing

You just don’t get anything new Smile

And just in case you were worries about buying licences for your business acceptance testing (BAT) then:

When software development projects are nearing completion, an MSDN subscription license also allows your end users to access the software to perform acceptance tests on your programs.
MSDN Licencing

MSDN has one of the most flexible licencing terms in the industry and you should be using it to its full potential and not leaving it on a shelf! It will make some of your developers more valuable if they can exercise the tools in their spare time and the others just will not take advantage of it.

-Every company deserves working software that successfully and consistently meets their customers needs on a regular cadence. We can help you get working software with continuous feedback so that your teams can deliver continuous value with Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), Team Foundation Server (TFS), Azure, & Scrum. We have experts on hand to help improve your process and deliver more value at higher quality.

  • Yngvar Johnsen

    “MSDN has one of the most flexible licencing terms in the industry”…
    Well, that depends. If you have MSDN subscriptions as part of a Silver or Gold partnership the following restrictions apply:
    “You cannot use MSDN subscriptions offered through the Microsoft Partner Network
    for direct revenue-generating activities, such as providing consulting services,
    customizing a packaged application for a specific customer, or building a custom
    application for a customer, for a fee.”,
    So, beware that what you inform people about here only applies to certain MSDN subscriptions, not all. I really wonder why Microsoft has decided on this. To me it does not make much sense, but hey, I’m just a software developer. 

  • Dennis van der Stelt

    Great info! How about running a software factory kind of thing? We have 4 test servers per team (front, back, app & sql) and about 3 teams. How does this conform to MSDN?

    • Dennis, 

       You should always speak to your Microsoft rep to get specifics for licencing as it is very difficult to interpret. Your scenario above sounds like something that is worthy of a chat with Microsoft Sales just to make sure.

       But, hypothetically,  if you have 3 teams of 9 people who all have an MSDN Ultimate assigned to them then you do not need any additional licencing for Microsoft products in either your Development or Testing environments.

      You do however get differing software assignments depending on wither you have Professional | Premium | Ultimate MSDN so you will need to make sure that you are covered.

      note: Don’t just ask a software vendor as they can’t do the same discounts that Microsoft Sales can.


  • Thanks Martin,
    Actually I knew about this before but what I didn’t know about it, that Scott Hanselman didn’t know 🙂 and this expected, Microsoft is a big company and not everyone knows everything 🙂

    • I though that @shanselman:twitter knew everything until I was told that…

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  • Tom

    What in case of :

    I am a person who

    – Owns license to Visual Studio 2010 and e.g. MSDN Licence for Windows 7 Ultimate

    – I am a tester in an external company (outsourced tester) where I use my Licence of Visual Studio for editing test scripts.

    – External company provides me a dedicated workstation to which I connect remotely.

    Can I install and use there my MSDN Windows 7 Ultimate to run e.g. Selenium Tests on a virtual machine (In this example I’m not developing software directly for that external company, only running own tests on their software – only me) ?

  • Good tip for those who don’t already know. I’ve always done this when i’ve worked at companies that provide their Developers with an MSDN license.

    The fact that the licenses are perpetual is something people often forget.

    I blogged recently about my prediction/hope that we may see the introduction of a subscription model specifically for Visual Studio when 2013 is released. ( )

    MSDN is great when the company is paying for it, for individuals who don’t have this luxury, or very small dev teams/businesses I think a cheaper, monthly subscription just for the various Visual Studio versions would be great.

    Without all the Azure benefits, office, various operating systems etc

  • mr_d

    That first sentence that you quoted seems to imply that it is only valid for development purposes up to testing and user acceptance. i.e. it DOESN’T seem to include production or commercial use (in fact, I beleive that elsewhere in the license agreement it actually says that the software is not to be used for production purposes) – so is it really the case that this is allowed?

    • You can’t use MSDN licences in Production. However if you have a Visual Studio with MSDN you get 5 production Windows and Office licences for YOUR use only. So you can run Visual Studio on all of your computers for building software. As soon as you are deploying your software to production you would require to pay for licences…

      • mr_d

        OK, so in that case, although still good I suppose, it’s not as attractive as your initial opening statement implied: “Did you know that you can use it at home on both commercial and open source projects of your own!”.
        So you can “work” on commercial software at home, but can’t deploy, distribute, or sell your work until you have bought another “retail” license.
        That’s disappointing, and may very well be a significant reason not to go the MSDN route if either your company needs to produce software for production use, or you want to do this yourself to make some money freelancing etc.

        • Of course you have to pay for your production deployments! Why would you not? If you have a hosted server then the OS will be included in the price. If you self-host then you need to pay for Windows or whatever OS you use. MSDN is about development. You do not need to pay for any of your Development or Test environments and it also include a production environment for you to use to write the software.

          This is FAR cheaper than paying for all of your environments. So why is it disappointing?

    • MSDN is for developers to build software not for running software in production. If you licence all of your developers for MSDN you only need to pay for: your production servers. If you do not have MSDN you have to pay for: you developers workstations, your development servers and your QA servers. You are not allowed to run the software provided by MSDN in production, but you can build an application using it and that can ship to production servers that you licence for production use. Did that make more sense?

  • faizy

    What happens if you leave the company and company transfers the membership to another developer: “If a license is transferred or sold, then everything installed using that license must be uninstalled” from

    is that the right assumption ? we should un-install when we leave the company?

    • My understanding is that as the MSDN licences (except Partner ones) are perpetual you do not need to un-install when you leave the company. You retain all of the licences that you already had at the time your MSDN is re-assigned and if you keep the keys and ISO’s handy you can use them forever. You just do not get future updates… however the article you reference tells a different story… I am not sure which is correct…

  • Dup

    Interesting post. What about the use of MSDN licences for test lab or pre-prod labs, but when the VMs are hosted by a hosting provider ?
    Will there be a difference if the VMs are managed by us (the customer) or by the hosting provider ?

    • That is now beyond my knowledge. You should speak to your MSFT sales contact to ask that deep a question 🙂

      • Dup

        Hi again,

        Actually, I have found information about that situation and I thought I would share: it is possible since 1st June 2013, through MSDN Cloud use Rights, if your hosting provider is “Qualified MSDN cloud partner”.


        Source & details:

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  • Elad

    Hi Martin,

    I saw what you wrote on the perpetual licence and opened the EULA again since I remember this is incorrect. According to the EULA most MSDN subscriber do not have the right to continue and use the license after the subscription expire. Can you please direct me to where I can find that this is a perpetual and I can use it after my subscription expire?

    • Almost all MSDN subscribers get a perpetual licence. The only non-perpetual licences are those granted to Partners or through promotions like BisSpark. If you or your company pay for an MSDN then it is likley perpetual.

      • Elad


        Thanks for the reply. this is the section from the MSDN EULA I refer to;

        Generally, MSDN subscriptions that do not provide perpetual use
        rights include:

        MSDN subscriptions
        purchased through Enterprise Agreement Subscription, Open Value Subscription,
        Campus Agreement, or other “subscription” Volume Licensing programs

        MSDN subscriptions offered
        through the Microsoft Partner Network including the Microsoft Action Pack
        Development and Design subscription.

        I’m talking about Visual Studio with MSDN not Visual Studio. What you are writing is a great news for me but I need to verify it and get something official.

  • Syed

    “Did you know that you can use it at home on both commercial and open source projects of your own!”

    Really? Because I do a lot of free lancing and open source projects. I get paid for these projects. Can I use my company’s msdn subscription of visual studio 2013 ultimate on my home pc(visual studio pro 2012)??

    • Apart from specifically restricted MSDN you can.

      • Syed

        awesome. This really helps.

      • Syed

        One last thing. Lets say my contract ends six months down the road. So this 2013 from my company’s subscription would still be valid until that subscription expires?

        • No, when the MSDN is assigned to someone else by your company you no longer have access. If Yu bought it, or you still worked for the company and they or you let it lapse then it is perpetual.

          • Syed

            So this means I would have to uninstall it and go with the ones I bought.

            Thank you

          • Maybe… if they are the exact same SKU you would not have to… but yes.. if your company gives you Ultimate and you bought Premium then you will need to uninstall..

          • Syed

            Thank you for this clarification.