Through the fall and spring, we transitioned VS Online from Preview to General Availability.  That process included changes to branding, the SLA, the announcement of pricing, the end of the early adopter program and more.  We’ve been working closely with customers to understand where the friction is and what we can do to make adopting VS Online as easy as possible.  This is a continuing process and includes discussions about product functionality, compliance and privacy, pricing and licensing, etc.  This is a journey and we’ll keep taking feedback and adjusting.

Today I want to talk about one set of adjustments that we want to make to licensing.

As we ended the early adopter period, we got a lot of questions from customers about how to apply the licensing to their situation.  We also watched as people assigned licenses to their users: What kind of licenses did they choose?  How many people did they choose to remove from their account?  Etc.

From all of this learning, we’ve decided to roll out 2 licensing changes in the next couple of months:

Stakeholders

A common question we saw was “What do I do with all of the stakeholders in my organization?”  While the early adopter program was in effect and all users were free, customers were liberal with adding people to their account.  People who just wanted to track progress or file a bug or a suggestion occasionally, were included.  As the early adopter period ended, customers had to decide – Is this really worth $20/user/month (minus appropriate Azure discounts)?  The result was that many of these “stakeholders” were removed from the VS Online accounts in the transition, just adding more friction for the development teams.

As a result of all this feedback we proposed a new “Stakeholder” license for VS Online.  Based on the scenarios we wanted to address, we designed a set of features that matched the needs most customers have.  These include:

    • Full read/write/create on all work items
    • Create, run and save (to “My Queries”) work item queries
    • View project and team home pages
    • Access to the backlog, including add and update (but no ability to reprioritize the work)
    • Ability to receive work item alerts

Some of the explicitly excluded items are:

    • No access to Code, Build or Test hubs.
    • No access to Team Rooms
    • No access to any administrative functionality (Team membership, license administration, permissions, area/iterations configuration, sprint configuration, home page configuration, creation of shared queries, etc.)

We the surveyed our “Top Customers” and tuned the list of features (to arrive at what I listed above).  One of the conversations we had with them was about the price/value of this feature set.  We tested 3 different price points - $5/user/month, $2/user/month and free.  Many thought it was worth $5.  Every single one thought it was worth $2.  However, one of the questions we asked was “How many stakeholders would you add to your account at each of these price points?”  The result was 3X more stakeholders if it’s free than if it’s $2.  That told us that any amount of money, even if it is perceived as “worth it”, is too much friction.  Our goal is to enable everyone who has a stake to participate in the development process (and, of course, to run a business in the process).  Ultimately, in balancing the goals of enabling everyone to participate and running a business, we concluded that “free” is the right answer.

As a result, any VS Online  account will be able to have an unlimited number of “Stakeholder” users with access to the functionality listed above, at no charge.

Access to the Test Hub

Another point of friction that emerged in the transition was access to the Test hub.  During the Preview, all users had access to the Test hub but, at the end of the early adopter program, the only way to get access to the Test hub was by purchasing Visual Studio Test Professional with MSDN (or one of the other products that include it, like VS Premium or VS Ultimate).

We got ample feedback that there were a class of users who really only need access to the web based Test functionality and don’t need all that’s in VS Test Professional.

Because of this, we’ve decided to include access to all of the Test hub functionality in the Visual Studio Online Advanced plan.

Timing

I’m letting you know now so that, if you are currently planning your future, you know what is coming.  I’m always loathe to get too specific about dates in the future because, as we all know, stuff happens.  However, we are working hard to implement these licensing changes now and my expectation is that we’ve got about 2 sprints of work to do to get it all finished.  That would put the effective date somewhere in the neighborhood of mid-August.  I’ll update you with more certainty as the date gets a little closer.

What about Team Foundation Server?

In general, our goal is to keep the licensing for VS Online and Team Foundation Server as “parallel” as we can – to limit how confusing it could be.  As a result, we will be evolving the current “Work Item Web Access” TFS CAL exemption (currently known as “Limited” users in TFS) to match the “Stakeholder” capabilities.  That will result in significantly more functionality available to TFS users without CALs.  My hope is to get that change made for Team Foundation Server 2013 Update 4.  It’s too early yet to be sure that’s going to be possible but I’m hopeful.  We do not, currently, plan to provide an alternate license for the Test Hub functionality in TFS, though it’s certainly something we’re looking at and may have a solution in a future TFS version.

Conclusion

As I said, it’s a journey and we’ll keep listening.  It was interesting to me to watch the phenomenon of the transition from Preview to GA.  Despite announcing the planned pricing many months in advance, the feedback didn’t get really intense until, literally, the week before the end of the early adopter period when everyone had to finish choosing licenses.

One of the things that I’m proud of is that we were able to absorb that feedback, create a plan, review it with enough people, create an engineering plan and (assuming our timelines hold), deliver it in about 3 months.  In years past that kind of change would take a year or two.

Hopefully you’ll find this change valuable.  We’ll keep listening to feedback and tuning our offering to create the best, most friction-free solution that we can.

Thanks,

Brian