Visual Studio Licensing Explained


The objective behind today’s post, is to serve as an overview for all those who want to learn more on Visual Studio Licensing. In my role as a Specialist in the field, I have gotten a wide range of questions on the subject. These range from license specific exceptions, towards benefits and ending up in full range license optimization exercises.


Visual Studio Editions

In terms of Visual Studio, there are currently four editions used ;

  • Visual Studio Code
  • Visual Studio Community
  • Visual Studio Professional
  • Visual Studio Enterprise

Where Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio Community are free, they do differ quite from the others. Where we will go into the detail of those in more detail individually. To get a full feature comparison between Community, Professional & Enterprise, do check out this page ;


Product Terms

Looking for the product terms? You can find them here ;


Standard vs Cloud Subscriptions

There are two ways to purchase Visual Studio Subscriptions ; Cloud & Standard. The could subscriptions allow for a dynamic pay-as-you-go model in terms of purchasing. Where standard will follow the typical commitment structure as many Enterprises are familiar with.

Source ;


Visual Studio Community

Visual Studio Community is free for individuals and has a very specific set of license terms for organization usage ; Do check the “Organizational License”-section, it entails the situations that are allowed to leverage Visual Studio Code ;


Visual Studio Code

Comparing Visual Studio Code to the other members of the Visual Studio Family is a very tough job and would actually deserve a post on its own… In a very minimalistic comparison, Code is an editor that can be extended with plugins to fit your needs. Where the other members are “full-featured” / “convenient” development environments that come with all the features required for project development. You can probably build a comparable development environment in Code… Though it will not look like that out of the box. At the end of the day, there is a reason for the price difference. My advice here is to do you home work and check out what you are exactly looking for.


Visual Studio Test Professional & GitHub Enterprise

You might be a customer that is still using “Visual Studio Test Professional“. Where in the past this SKU was mostly targeted towards Test Professionals, One important thing to note here, is that this SKU cannot be upgraded to the same equivalent including GitHub Enterprise. If you would want to do so, then the most economic alternative is to combine Visual Studio Professional & an individual Azure DevOps Basic + Test Plans SKU to achieve the same. Do check out the list of included downloads, as there are still minor differences that might impact you.


Visual Studio Pro vs MSDN Platforms

Likewise as with “Visual Studio Test Professional”, the same concept applies to “MSDN Platforms”. In a lot of cases, “MSDN Platforms” was used as a way to optimize licenses (more on that later => “Software for Dev/Test”). Though in a lot of cases, it is actually more economic now to switch to Visual Studio Professional. Which will then also unlock GitHub Enterprise for you! Though, again, do check out the list of included downloads, as there are still minor differences that might impact you.


Benefit : Azure DevOps

If you are leveraging a Standard Subscription, then you get usage rights to Azure DevOps for the user linked to the Subscription. For Professional Subscriptions, you get a “Basic”-user as included in the price. Where an Enterprise user will get a “Basic + Test Plans”-user included. These users are automatically detected when sign in and there will be no additional charge for them (source).

(The awesome thing here, is that the benefit is available for both the cloud and standard subscription!)


Benefit : GitHub Enterprise

GitHub has been part of the Microsoft family for more than 3 years. Since early on, you could get a Visual Studio Subscription SKU that also GitHub Enterprise. Where since October 2020, the price difference between the SKU with and without GitHub Enterprise is peanuts (10-20 cents per year / user). Which means that you can get the awesome benefits that GitHub Enterprise brings for virtually no additional costs to your contract!

(Be aware that this benefit is only available for standard subscriptions…)


Benefit : Sandbox subscriptions

Depending on which standard subscription SKU you have, you are entitled to a personal Azure credit of $50 (Professional) or $150 (Enterprise). You can use this budget for your own development sandboxing, experiments, etc. To immediately address the typical questions that pop up from enterprises on this topic ;

  • The budget from the individual credits cannot be pooled and transferred into the overall enterprise agreement bucket.
  • These subscriptions are envisioned to be typically out-of-band of Enterprise management. You could set them up with typical management group policies. Though this might not give you the best yield out of these type of subscriptions.

Though, at the end of the day, know your subscribers have this benefit… and use it!

(Be aware that this benefit is only available for standard subscriptions…)


Benefit : Software for Dev/Test

In the day when Microsoft thrived on perpetual licensing, it was a common setup in the Datacenter space to leverage the “Software for Dev/Test”-benefits for license optimization. Where this art is probably forgotten by many, it actually still exists (and is also usable in Azure). The basic concept is that a Visual Studio Subscriber gets the leverage software for non-production usage … at no cost. So if you calculate the total license cost of (Microsoft software for) your non-production environment, and you divide that by the cost of a Visual Studio Subscription… Then you know the tipping point in terms of the amount of Visual Studio Subscriptions you would need to offset the licensing cost. So next up, is to check how many users are using these non-production environments, taking the exception into account (where users doing acceptance testing do not need to be licensed).

(Be aware that this benefit is only available for standard subscriptions…)


In essence ;

Tipping Point (in # users) = Total License Cost for Non-Production / Cost for Visual Studio Professional 

If Tipping Point > # of users accessing the environment, excluding users who do acceptance testing, then license the environment via Visual Studio


Azure & Software for Dev/Test

Azure allows you to leverage your Dev/Test benefits ;

You can even leverage specific subscription offers to automatically activate the benefits ;

(Do be aware that CSP subscriptions are not covered… As this might impact your situation. And that this benefit is only available for standard subscriptions…)


Other Hyperscalers & Software for Dev/Test

The Visual Studio Subscriptions are also subject to the general “Outsourcing Software Management”-clause ;

Where an “Authorized Outsourcers” is defined as ;

Which then brings us to the “Listed Providers” ;

And this list includes the following ;

In essence ; You are not allowed to exercise your Visual Studio benefit in terms of Software for Dev/Test with the Listed Providers. With the exception of via Dev/Test subscriptions on Azure.


Closing Thoughts

With this I hope that the post helped you to clear out the scenario you had in mind… If I missed something, do leave the question in the comments, and I will address it accordingly! 😉

Next to that, do note that these terms might change… Where they do have remained quite stable since 2019. So always consult with your licensing expert before making decisions made on the things I have written above.

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