FAQ: Microsoft gives away Windows 10, Office 365 in try-before-you-buy deal for enterprise

The invitation-only 'Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise' lets users, most of them IT pros, test-drive services and features targeting the largest Windows customers.

Microsoft has launched a project designed to tempt customers into paying for the Windows 10 services aimed at enterprises.

Dubbed "Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise" - or WILE from here on out - the invitation-only program allows users, most of whom will be IT professionals, to test-drive current and pre-release services and features targeting the largest Windows customers.

We've collected the top questions about WILE, along with answers, naturally, so you can decide whether to invest the time in the program.

What exactly is WILE? The best way to think of Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise is as a sandbox where you can play with Windows Enterprise without having to commit your organization's back-end resources to testing the SKU (stock-keeping unit), and the services and features available only to its users.

Microsoft's built a pretend enterprise - Olympia Corp., in a nod to nearby Mt. Olympia; or Olympia, Wash.; or perhaps "Oly," the beer once brewed in Tumwater - and a real network, the latter via Azure Active Directory. WILE testers can domain join their Windows 10 PCs (real, not pretend) to the network, conduct tests and demonstrations (the latter dubbed "quests" by Microsoft), work with Office 365 documents, and monitor the machines' defenses.

What features and services can I test with WILE? Microsoft trumpeted Windows 10 Enterprise's security provisions mostly loudly.

They include Windows Defender Application Guard, Windows Information Protection and Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).

The company also trumped the Hello for Business authentication feature, which works with both Active Directory and Azure Active Directory.

We're running Windows 10 Pro in our pilot. How can we test Windows 10 Enterprise? As part of the deal, Microsoft will allow WILE participants to upgrade Windows 10 Pro PCs to Enterprise. That was smart, because, as Microsoft put it, "Since certain features such as Windows Defender Application Guard are only available on Windows 10 Enterprise, we recommend you to [sic] upgrade."

The Enterprise license will remain valid only as long as the device stays enrolled in the WILE program. "Your Windows 10 Enterprise license will not be renewed if your PC is not connected to Olympia," Microsoft spelled out, referring to the virtual firm's network. A FAQ puts it even plainer: "Windows 10 Enterprise is licensed only to devices that are joined with Olympia's Azure Active Directory (AAD). When your device is no longer part of our AAD, then your Windows 10 Enterprise license will expire. This may also happen if your Olympia corporate account was revoked for any reason."

Microsoft's policy here is different than some of its other preview programs, such as the one for Microsoft 365 Business, which lets testers keep Enterprise licenses.

You said something about Office 365. What gives there? WILE also gives testers access to Office 365, but again with a caveat: Participants may use the applications provided by the free license to Office 365 only "as long you are signed into your Olympia corporate account," according to Microsoft.

As part of the Office 365 gimme, all users will be provided an "name@olympia.windows.com" email address to use with Outlook.

How do I get into WILE? Microsoft decides who gets in, but you must start the process by completing the short survey that begins here. The survey questions include the number of Windows PCs you intend to connect to the test network, what version of Windows 10 they're currently running, and your IT duties, if any, within your organization.

"We are currently accepting a limited number of Insiders to pilot the program," Microsoft says on the survey's first page. Answers you provide will either qualify you for WILE, or they won't; which it will be is unclear, since Microsoft did not spell out what kind of customers it was after.

Anything else I need to do? According to Microsoft, the systems that will connect to WILE must be set to receive Insider builds, must be running preview build 16215 (from early June) or later, and must be disconnected from any assigned domain.

What other resources are available for WILE? Besides the FAQ and a short set of instructions on how to enroll a PC in the program (and upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise), support is limited to the Insider Feedback Hub, the clearinghouse for all preview questions, and hopefully, answers. The Hub is accessible only from within an Insider build.

Additional information, including the "quest" demonstrations, is available at a special WILE portal.

What's Microsoft motive for splurging like this? Microsoft linked WILE to its existing Windows Insider preview program - more specifically, to the Windows Insider for Business spin-off - and thus plugged the same "give-us-feedback" and "you-too-can-help-make-Windows-better" themes the firm has promoted since before Windows 10's 2015 debut.

But while it may appreciate the testing time participants put in, we suspect that's not the only, or even the top, reason.

In the WILE FAQ, Microsoft lists five things previewers can accomplish. The first? "Use various Enterprise features like WIP (Windows Information Protection), ATP (Advanced Threat Protection), WDAG (Windows Defender Application Guard), APP-V (Application virtualization), and Device Guard."

Giving feedback was No. 4 on the list.

The emphasis wasn't a surprise. Microsoft has made it clear that it plans to generate significant revenue from the top-tier enterprise subscription plans, those that carry the E5 designation. "People start using E1 then they use E3 and then you start to see the momentum in E5," said Microsoft's CFO, Amy Hood, during a July earnings call.

To record revenue from a Microsoft 365 for Enterprise subscription - whether the E3 or E5 plan -- the company has to convince customers that there's value in the deal. Companies not yet deploying Windows 10, as well as those that have largely stuck with the lower-cost Windows 10 Pro, have no idea if Enterprise, and especially Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), the key differentiator between an E3 and an E5, are worthy and worthwhile.

WILE is as much a try-before-you-buy system tweaked for corporate IT as it is yet another way for Microsoft to off-load more of its testing and quality assurance to users.

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