Microsoft 365 Education – Licensing

*DISCLAIMER* I know, the title of this entry is deceiving but bear with me! I’m stating up front that I am NOT a licensing person at Microsoft but within a product group. Along with that, we (Microsoft employees) understand that our licensing is challenging to understand, at best! We’re actively attempting to find a simple way to license and consume our solutions within a classroom. (If reading NOTHING else, jump to the end paragraph for the HUGE nugget you should know!)

This post comes from a couple of districts, which came up to me after a session I did at a conference I spoke at: which most of the audience are Google Classroom customers. There were two questions which stuck out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  1. This question was VERY pointed. I’ll paraphrase but it went something like, “Why do I have 2 admins administering all of my Chromebooks and 7-8 for Windows?” If I recall correctly, there was also a sidebar conversation of how Windows devices are more expensive than a Chromebook.
  2. I want to adopt Intune for Education (that was the topic I presented) but Microsoft’s licensing is SO complex. I also don’t know what I need to make the Modern Classroom a reality. Please help!

Let’s start with the device question first. In my opinion, it’s a race to the bottom (lowest price) as it concerns hardware. Both platforms have entry level hardware (Chromebook and Windows PCs). So, I want to push pricing aside for a moment; not that it’s unimportant but I believe there to be additional context around that device. When this question was posed to me at the conference, I stepped back to ask a few questions. I asked what goals, curriculum and educational uses they needed technology to support? I received a typical IT response (which is what the audience was) which was to surf the web and do productivity. My answer was very concise and clear; Microsoft has an answer for that which is a $200-$300 device, with touchscreen, along with Office 365 A1 (our first confusion on solution names! I’ll cover that below) which is free to educational intuitions (faculty/staff/students).

The conversation pivoted, at that point, that the Windows PC’s needed to run the Office desktop apps. My counter to that was that the criteria just changed. A Chromebook cannot do that, so why is the bar changing for a PC? We went around a few times and then the lightbulb went on! There IS a direct comparison of a Chromebook to a Windows PC. However, with that same Windows PC, you CAN do more things with it! You can install additional software (desktop AND store apps) as well as educational hardware (think USB microscopes and such). Would I suggest running Office desktop applications and USB microscopes on minimal hardware? Heck no! However, the Windows ecosystem allows an institution to meet their curricular and educational goals. It’s not about the “specs” of the hardware.

Now onto “Question 2” of licensing. I’ve been working with a district who wants to adopt Intune for Education. The conversation started in that same circle of questions from above. To make matters ‘worse’, Microsoft has almost every permeation of licensing spanning our 44 years in the software business. It’s like a mindmap; if you have this and then want that, you’ll need to go down this path. We try and help and bridge our customers from where there at and where our current software is. However, it makes it VERY complex and confusing. Along with that, we have ‘challenging’ names and worse yet.. TONS of acronyms! Allow me to throw two of them into the mix: O365 and M365. Did you know those are a ‘thing’? They’re actually two different things which you should know about!

Office 365 (O365) is Microsoft’s subscription of productivity tools and services. There are 3 different educational variants to choose from; A1, which is a FREE subscription, A3 and A5 which are paid subsciptions. All the details can be found here of price and features for O365.

Microsoft 365 (M365) is a new device license including Windows, Intune for Education, and Office 365 Education. (There’s QUITE a bit more but that will give you the basics!) Just like it’s O365 counterpart, there are A1, A3 and A5 tiers. I’m going to focus on the paid versions (A3 and A5) because the thought behind the pricing was to make it SIMPLE! Yes, that’s right! Everything you need for your devices in the classroom from identity, productivity and management (see graphic below).


Now, if you’ve made it this far (I sure hope you have!), the biggest thing to know when purchasing A3/A5 is that you count up your Faculty / Staff and pick one. All your students are included in that price! That includes student home use rights for Office on their home machines (iOS, PC, Mac or Android). Seriously, it’s that simple! Reference that image below or click the link here to go to the Microsoft site! Enjoy!