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Andrew Clear (Mug Shot)

With the official launch of Visual Studio 2013, Microsoft rebranded Team Foundation Service to Visual Studio Online. The previously free preview product was finally promoted to full product status, and in the true spirit of Microsoft this promotion included some rocking new content and … a complicated licensing scheme. It’s a good-news/bad-news kind of thing. But fear not, in this post I’ll hopefully be able to dispel some of the confusion, and maybe convince you to not run screaming with your hair on fire back to your on-premises TFS (Seriously don’t do that. Not only am I a believer in Visual Studio Online, despite its current flaws, the migration path back to your on-premises is non-trivial if you want to take your history with you.)

The Good

If you haven’t already, check out my Ten Reasons to Love Visual Studio 2013 post. There’s some real gems in there related to Visual Studio Online. Most notably, hosted Git repositories, cloud based load testing, cloud based automated builds, and my personal favorite the new Application Insights (in limited preview, but bug Brian Harry for a key). The bottom line is that the Visual Studio Online development stack (VS IDE, Azure, VSO, TEE, and Git) is about as good as it gets for hosted application lifecycle management, and it keeps getting better. My faith in the Visual Studio team has never been higher.

The Not So Good

There are two (and a half) levels of access to Visual Studio Online Basic and Advanced (Exclusive being the extra half), as well as on demand services of load testing and automated builds which you’ll pay for as you use them. You’ll also get some free each month with the amount depending on your subscription level, and they’re sufficient for light non-enterprise level use. Here’s the one slide version of the access levels.


So if you’re an MSDN subscriber there shouldn’t be any surprises there. If you’ve got MSDN Test Pro (which means if you’ve got MSDN Pro, you don’t qualify) and above get basic and the “Exclusive capabilities” which at the moment just means the Web test case management tools (Web test runner, Test plan & suite management).

You’ll notice that there are three new icons on there that look similar to MSDN icons, yet don’t have anything to do with MSDN subscriptions at all, so don’t be confused. You’ve got Basic, which gets you basic access, Advanced which gets you advanced access, and the wonderfully named “Professional” (not to be confused with MSDN Professional), which will get you basic access, as well as the Visual Studio Professional IDE. I’m not exactly sure what you’re supposed to do if you want the Professional IDE and the advanced capabilities but don’t want an MSDN, but hey I’m no expert (okay, so I do know, you’re supposed to buy an MSDN subscription).

Other than the weirdness with the VSO Professional license, and the bizarre treatment of the test tools, that pretty much makes sense. So let’s move on to pricing. Here’s another beautiful one-slide.


Sigh. Really? You made a complex license matrix for the difference between $20 and $60 per user per month? You couldn’t just give all non-MSDN subscribers everything for $30/month and call it good? Mutter, curses and other such things. Anywho… moving on.

As previously mentioned the hosted build services as well as the hosted load testing will be offered on a pay-as-you-use model (through your Azure account). The hosted build services are still a bit limited, but if you’re building a fairly modern .Net application or site you should be good to go. The hosted load testing is pretty awesome as it gives you the ability to scale load tests to realistic levels. If you don’t want to go the hosted route here, you can still make use of on-premises assets for both of these as well, or use the hosted variety to scale out your infrastructure.

The Bottom Line

Despite the overly complex licensing scheme, I’m still really excited about VSO. It’s a solid ALM base in the cloud, and when coupled effectively with Azure for IaaS/PaaS and the industry leading VS IDE, I’ll deal with the license. For most of us our MSDN subscription is going to get us what we need, until you start to look at the cloud services. Then you have to deal with the fact that you need a non-MSDN Azure subscription tied to the VSO account in order to enable them… Sorry digressing.

Your Next Steps

If you’re already on VSO

Take a close look at the licensing scheme, and determine if you’re going to need to start paying for anything in the near future. Microsoft has announced an “Early Adopter” program which will give you 90 days of unrestricted free access so you’ve got some time yet to determine if you want to make any changes or need to create any new subscription. If you’re interested in moving from VSO to an on-premises TFS, Martin has a good blog post on the subject.

If you’re not on VSO yet

If you’ve got an MSDN subscription, you’re good to go. Just head over to and start an account. If you don’t have an MSDN subscription you can still get started without any upfront cost, as the first five basic accounts are free. You can also enable a 30-day trial which will turn on all the VSO features for you to try. I’d be careful with that one though if you don’t plan on continuing the service. Once your teams get hooked, you’re probably not going to want to go back to whatever your old way was.

The migration path is a little murky at the moment if you want to move your code base with history, and even murkier if you want to move work items with history. For the code base my first recommendation would be to consider using git-tf to migrate to a Git repository first, as moving history with Git is trivial. If that isn’t an option you’re looking at an TFS Integration Platform move. For the work items I’d recommend an Excel migration without history if at all possible, otherwise you’re again looking at the TFS Integration Platform. Martin has some great articles on working with the TFS Integration Platform and Visual Studio Online on his blog at (you might have to use “Team Foundation Service” instead of “Visual Studio Online” in your search queries).


If you need some help

Confused yet? If you need some help we’d love to discuss your goals and help you get there. Contact us at and let us know how we can help.

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