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TFS 2012: Comparison of Team Foundation Server’s Editions

About TFS Blog Series

This blog post is part of a blog series to introduce Team Foundation Server to new users. The blog series will also contain articles targeting intermediate and expert users.  I will be using Team Foundation Server 2012 Update 1 and Visual Studio 2012 Update 1 throughout the series. If you have any questions or you want me to cover a specific topic, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Expertise Level


Getting Started with Team Foundation Server

TFS comes in three flavours:

  • Team Foundation Server Service (tfs.VisualStudio.com)
  • Team Foundation Server Express
  • Team foundation Server

Choosing which flavour you need depends pretty much on your requirements. In this article I will shed light on each version and why you want to choose one vs the other.

Introducing Team Foundation Server’s Editions

Team Foundation Server Service

TFS Service is the cloud or the hosted version of the TFS. It is currently offered for free and supports up to 5 team users. Microsoft will disclose pricing for other plans in 2013. Microsoft has announced that a Free Plan will be offered. Microsoft will offer away to transition from the free service to the paid service when such a service is announced.

At the time of writing this article, the announced Free Plan includes:

  • Up to 5 users
  • Unlimited number of projects
  • Version control
  • Work item tracking (To manage Sprints, Storyboard, Tasks, Bugs, ..etc)
  • Agile planning tools (Backlog, Kanban and task boards, Sprint schedule,
  • Feedback management (Mechanism to get feedback from stakeholders)
  • Team build support


The following is a list of advantages of TFS service compared to the other versions of TFS:

  • No installation required. Can be up and running in matters of minutes
  • Don’t require purchasing hardware or software to host the TFS
  • Data is stored in triplicate on three physically distinct servers
  • Full backups are done everyday and with hourly incremental backups
  • Service is accessible from anywhere around the world
  • TFS Service receives the new TFS updates and features, every 3 weeks, before other versions of TFS
  • No licensing required when using the express versions of Visual Studio or none Microsoft platforms such as Eclipse or Xcode
  • Scalable, you can scale out the team build by hosting the build service in your enterprise


  • Paid version plans are not out yet
  • Free for upto 5 users
  • Lack of Active Directory support
  • Maybe slow when getting too many files from the server depending on your connection speed
  • Data is not inside your network
  • Can’t customize process template or workitem templates
  • No SharePoint portal
  • Doesn’t come with lab environment. Such environments must must be setup on physical or virtual machines (including Cloud)
  • Limited reports and can’t deploy custom reports. You can still use Excel to connect to the service and have your custom reports locally
  • Limited migration path from TFS on premise to TFS Service and vise versa

Team Foundation Server Express

TFS Express is a free limited version of Team Foundation Server. It is great for small teams of up to 5 five users. TFS Express can be downloaded from the MSDN website and it is around 500MB. Here is a direct link to the TFS Express home page.


  • Free
  • Data stays inside your network
  • Comes with version control repository
  • Work item tracking
  • Build Automation
  • You have more control compared to the TFS Service
  • Can customize Process and Workitems template
  • CAL’s can be purchased in case your team grows beyond 5 users
  • Support for express versions of Visual Studio


  • Must have own hardware or virtual machine
  • Not accessible from anywhere
  • Supports Basic installation only
  • Limited Agile Project management features and tools
  • No Reporting Integration
  • No SharePoint Integration
  • Supports only SQL Server Express Edition
  • Installed on one machine. Can’t scale out
  • Doesn’t support TFS Proxy
  • Excludes Preemptive analytics add-on
  • Need to manage your own database backups and downtimes in case of hardware failure
  • Buy license for the Operating System and CALs if required

Team Foundation Server

This is the full version of TFS. It has no limitations and supports more integration and configuration scenarios. You can buy TFS from the Microsoft Store or one of the Microsoft’s resellers or you could already have a license to use it if you have certain MSDN subscriptions. To read more about licensing, please check the MSDN website or click here to read the licensing white paper.


  • Full integration with many products such as SharePoint and reporting services
  • Supports higher end versions of SQL Server for the backend as well as Express version
  • Supports the express versions of Visual Studio and other Non-Microsoft products (CAL may be required)
  • CAL License is included with certain Visual Studio MSDN subscriptions (Professional, Premium and Ultimate)


  • Must have own hardware and/or virtual machines
  • Need to install and configure
  • Make sure that all required CALs are purchased
  • Could be pricy for small teams
  • Not accessible from anywhere


For large and restrictive companies the full edition of TFS would probably be the best option because the data is stored in house, server can be scaled out, supports higher end database editions (standard and enterprise) and can integrate with SharePoint. It all comes with a cost depending on your team size and the number of servers and licenses needed for scaling out the server. But, if your development team(s) already have Visual Studio MSDN subscription, then your company may get a relief on CALs.

For smaller size teams of 5 users or less, it comes down to how much control you need to have over your data and the ability to customize process template and work item templates vs better Agile process and broader availability. If you are interested in the first scenario, TFS Express would be a better option, otherwise you are better off using TFS Service. In case your team can afford the full edition of TFS or your team already have Visual Studio MSDN subscription, you may want to take advantage of full version of TFS. There are programs offered by Microsoft for small businesses such as BizSpark. Check with your local Microsoft office, you may qualify for other offers.

For teams larger than 5 users, you want to calculate how many CALs you need and how much you are paying for them and is it worth it to upgrade to Full Version of TFS.

My conclusion is based on the state of TFS Service as of January 7, 2012 which was explained above.


About Lajak Technologies

A consulting firm in Ottawa, Ontario that provides services related to Microsoft technologies, Team Foundation Server, DevOps practices, security and more. Contact us today to help you solving your complex software problems. Visit us at http://www.lajak.com.

  1. Neo
    April 5, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Thanks Ahmed, It was useful.

  2. Yahya
    September 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Thanks Ahmed.
    Excellent summary.

  1. February 19, 2013 at 11:02 am
  2. February 19, 2013 at 11:15 am

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