I have developed a server application which is hosted by an IIS 7.5 running on Windows. Aside from a web frontend the application also provides a SOAP and a REST API. Clients will only interact with these APIs and the web frontend.

I am now looking for a Windows distribution which allows me to distribute the system in form of a virtual machine. I.e. I would like to set up a virtual machine image which has Windows as well as some open-source programs and my own binaries pre-installed and ship this whole VM to my customers. This would minimize the efforts required for setting up the system at a customer site.

Originally I wanted to use Windows Embedded Standard 7 as OS, but it appears to be prohibited to ship a WES7 as virtual machine, because Windows Embedded OS must always be bound to a physical device.

I would like to know which x64 Windows edition would be best for my needs:

  • Hard requirement: Can be pre-installed on a virtual machine and shipped as such
  • Hard requirement: Volume licensing available
  • Soft requirement: Small memory footprint
  • Soft requirement: Cheapest Windows that allows this.
  • Soft requirement: Preferrably no manual activation required (like Windows Embedded, where you only need to attach the license sticker to the device)

Context: My system is a monitoring/reporting system for industrial machines. It retrieves and aggregates data from industrial machines and makes it accessible through web frontends. The data is usually considered confidential, so users would not be too happy if we uploaded that data to some server on the internet.

I really need a Windows OS, because some of the components used are only available for Windows. I cannot use Linux.

  • Why not consider Windows 10? Isn't is going to be free?
    – Mawg
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 13:26
  • Windows 10 is free to people with a paid for Windows 8.1 for a specific time period only. Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 13:57
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    Can't you just give them an ISO/Zip/batch script which will install of the s/w on their chosen version of windows? Are you already aware of version conflicts?
    – Mawg
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 15:26
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    More specifically, Windows 10 will be free for most users of legitimate Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Windows 8 users must first upgrade to Windows 8.1 - also free) installations, for one year after the release (29th of July).
    – nidunc
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 20:09
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    Isnt this the thing that containers (docker) should solve?
    – Jogai
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 20:02

4 Answers 4


Why not deploy on a cloud VM? Is that an option? There is a lot of competition in this area, which means that a hosting partner may already have volume discounts on OS licensing. Amazon EC2 and Azure are the major players, but there are numerous options if this is a possibility.

  • Thank you for your answer (+1 for not suggesting Linux). Deploying as a cloud VM is not an option, because the server application we're talking about is a monitoring/reporting system for industrial machines. It retrieves and aggregates data from industrial machines and makes it accessible through web frontends. The data is usally considered confidential, so users would not be too happy if we uploaded that data to some server on the internet. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 6:53
  • @Alexander If the machine monitoring system has internet access this may still be a possibility. We had similar constraints in a few applications that contained confidential data, and have utilized Atlantic.net due to its HIPAA compliant hosting. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:29

From talking to several Windows distributors, I gathered the following information:

  • Using Embedded Windows - generally not allowed, because it must be bundled with a physical device
  • OEM Licensing - not allowed for the same reason
  • Volume Licensing - not allowed, because Volume Licensing can only be applied for the end users, but Volume licenses cannot be resold. As @Notre1 already mentioned, they can be transferred, but that is not the same.
  • System Builder Licensing - allowed, if one intends to run only one virtual instance per license key. All retail Windows variants are possible, for example Windows 7 Professional. However, this has two downsides:
    • System Builder Licensing does not grant re-imaging rights, i.e. one would have to manually install and activate each shipped copy. Pre-configuring the virtual system and then only carrying out the activation step for each sold copy is not allowed - the system really has to be installed from scratch each time using the provided Microsoft DVD.
    • Also, the VM would need to be shipped together with the complete Windows Package, i.e. DVD, user manual and license sticker.

So basically no Microsoft license model exists that would allow the intended scenario. System Builder licensing is the only model that allows shipping the system in form of a VM, but every copy would have to be set up separately. This is sad.

  • So basically no Microsoft license model exists that would allow the intended scenario it's because you are taking a role of Microsoft here, why the heck they should delegate you the right to (re)-sell their licenses if they can do it themselves? Register yourself as an authorized reseller and do it without any limitation.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 19:10

I think that you realistically only have one option, and that is to buy a retail license and ship that as part of your virtual appliance.

If you purchased a MS volume license as the end user, I don't think you are legally allowed to resell it. (If your company is a authorized MS volume license re-seller, then you might be able to get away with it.)

There is a process for transferring volume licenses from one company to another, but that is designed for mergers and acquisitions. I would guess that, even if you use this process/system, it would end up costing more than the retail license, once you added in the cost of the time needed to handle the license transfer.

  • Hey there, although I didn't accept your answer I did award you the bounty, because your answer was close to what I came up with myself (and which I marked as the accepted answer). The other answers weren't too bad either, but as I said, running the system on a cloud server or porting to linux simply is no option. Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:57

I would strongly recommend porting your application to Linux and shipping with that, (on a VM or otherwise).

  • Licence Restrictions - much fewer than any edition of Windows
  • Price - Free
  • Volume Licencing - Unlimited
  • Stability - Usually better
  • Small Footprint - if you choose and definitely smaller
  • Server Architecture - Defiantly
  • Activation Required - None
  • Versions get retired from under you - very rarely.

Some other considerations:

  • You may be able to just run your current application under Wine on Linux to avoid any porting effort
  • Once you are running under Linux you could look at using Docker to distribute and run rather than VM - this would possibly give you considerable benefits.
  • Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately porting to Linux is not an option. See my updated question. Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 14:09
  • The only components that I know of that are only available for Windows, that do not have superior alternatives available for Linux, are also ones that you can be cut off at the knees or held over a barrel at any time so it is always best to avoid relying on them if possible. Ask any hardware engineer about second sourcing and its advantages. Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 15:18
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    I want to up- and downvote this answer at the same time :) Up: Yes, for most cases Linux is by far the better choice for this kind of setup. Down: The author has restricted his request to Windows (and there are functions that are not available on Linux unfortunately) so, technically, this is NAA :) Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 8:09
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    @AngeloFuchs - Yes the OP asked for Windows but also asked for cheap, legal to distribute, small footprint, pre-installed with no registration all of which directly contradict using windows so I gave an OoB answer. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 15:45
  • @SteveBarnes - there is no end to the industry-specific components that one might need to rely on. In many cases there are regulatory (FDA approval), patent, or institutional inertia (we already have 12 licenses!) reasons that your customers can't or won't accept anything else. I'm in medical, and I can assure you that we face this every day trying to get our product out there. Commented May 26, 2016 at 18:36

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