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Microsoft licensing changes to offer more freebies, support

Still feeling burned by Licensing 6.0? Microsoft hopes some changes, including more freebies on the desktop and more support on the server, will salve your wounds.

Whether Microsoft's decision to sweeten its licensing programs with a variety of services and support will win over customers who felt burned by Licensing 6.0 will vary depending on the needs of each enterprise, experts said.

During a customer webcast on Wednesday, the software company is expected to introduce a wide assortment of changes to the Software Assurance portion of Licensing 6.0, as previously reported. Microsoft executives were unavailable for comment, but analysts said there are changes coming for desktop and for server products.

Desktop changes include the following: Microsoft will give customers free home-use rights for Information Worker products, which include Office, Visio, FrontPage and others. In other words, if a company has purchased licenses for 5,000 copies of software to use on 5,000 PCs at work, then those workers may use the software at home, too.

Microsoft will also set up an employee purchase program, so customers' employees may purchase software at a discount.

Customers that either have Software Assurance on a variety of Microsoft products or an Open or Enterprise Agreement will get access to TechNet Online Concierge Chat, a Web-based support service. "This is not full technical support, as if you had a Microsoft Premier agreement," said Alvin Park, an analyst with Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn., research firm. "It's the ability to go online and get some support."

Customers who purchase Software Assurance on a companywide basis will also have use of some additional tools, including Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) and Corporate Error Reporting.

Everyone with Software Assurance will get access to Microsoft's ELearning training, and the largest customers will get access to Microsoft Certified Technical Education Center (CTEC) training vouchers.

Those are the desktop freebies, but there are some differences for servers. Microsoft will give Web-based support for its Standard editions and telephone support for Enterprise editions. Customers with Enterprise editions of Microsoft software can call for live support during business hours, as well as receive TechNet's Concierge Chat service. Server customers will also gain access to managed news groups and TechNet, plus receive regular CDs with technical support.

Today, Microsoft is charging customers up front if they want to receive two years of extended hotfix support beyond the five-year product support cycle. If you buy Software Assurance today, they will not charge you right away, but rather defer the charge until you need the support. "This way, you won't be charged a fee that you may never use," Park said.

Whether the changes to Software Assurance will be enough to sway customers still fuming over Microsoft's Licensing 6.0 remains unclear. Some customers may like the free products, and others may like the fact that they can call in when there is a problem, but it's not an all-or-nothing choice.

Park said that he is advising customers to evaluate each change and make sure that what Microsoft is offering is meaningful to their companies. List each option one by one, and put a dollar value on each, he said. That way, customers can determine whether the new benefit will lower the cost of overall maintenance.

Other analysts said that Microsoft's changes to its licensing program show that the company is trying to regain customer trust and add business value to its products. Licensing 6.0 stoked customer ire for many reasons, but mainly because it was perceived as expensive at a time when customers could least afford it, said Laura DiDio, an analyst at the Boston-based Yankee Group.

But Microsoft has taken it on the chin all year, and company executives have often said that they had misjudged customers and the market.


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