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Users offer mixed reviews of Licensing 6.0 tweaks

Some think it's a good move. Others just appreciate the gesture. And several think Microsoft just doesn't get it. Obviously, users have mixed reviews of Microsoft's planned tweaks to Software Assurance.

The news that Microsoft has packed more freebies into its Software Assurance licensing agreement is trickling down to IT administrators and, though customers are appreciative, many of them feel Microsoft has not gone far enough.

In September, all customers with Software Assurance -- a part of Licensing 6.0 that requires customers to pay up front for upgrades they will get in the future -- will get some free support, training and other benefits, depending on their individual licensing agreements. While a few customers have said that they like the added value, many believe it's just one step in the right direction. Microsoft has been making changes to its licensing program since last fall and will likely continue to do so.

"It's a good step," said Joe Brunner, MIS manager at Sleepeck Printing Co., a commercial printer in Bellwood, Ill. Sleepeck has an Open License, which means Brunner will be getting some e-learning, some use of TechNet chat, and home use of Office.

For a relatively small company -- Sleepeck has about 100 end users in two locations -- the extra license is a big help. The e-learning will help Brunner keep up to date on the entire Office suite. And even if he were to bring in outside training, not every employee needs to learn at the same time.

But Brunner said he recognizes that some larger companies have the staff to provide training, so the e-learning may not be as important to those administrators. Indeed, a lower-cost license may be more attractive. But he views the changes as representing more cooperation between Microsoft and its customers. "Instead of just trying to sell a product now, they are trying to work with their user base," Brunner said.

The added support and services do give IT managers something tangible to show senior management so they can justify the cost of purchasing licensing in the first place, according to Scott Saunders, director of systems technology at Paxson Communications Corp., a West Palm Beach, Fla., television network.

Licensing 6.0 isn't a piece of equipment that can be depreciated, Saunders said. "[Licensing 6.0] was just a piece of paper, and [Microsoft] constantly wanted me to buy," he said. "Do I really get benefit from Office 2003? No. But Windows 2000 was a leap beyond NT 4.0, so I see some value."

For some customers, any cost savings they get from Microsoft is great, but as far as their budgets are concerned, the damage is done. "Even with all the free stuff, we already paid the big bundle," said Jim Acevedo, network manager at IdaCorp Energy, a Boise, Idaho utility. "We will use their products because there is nothing else, but what I still want to know is why they did what they did in the first place."

Few customers today are aware of the changes, because Microsoft won't start briefing them until Sept. 1, when the changes go into effect, said Rebecca LaBrunerie, Microsoft's product manager for worldwide licensing and pricing. LaBrunerie said that any customer in volume licensing who has Software Assurance will automatically receive the benefits.

One customer argued that Microsoft still expects customers to upgrade software faster than they are able. "I think the extra features are great for the price, but what about providing a program that meets the customer [needs], and not Microsoft's?" said Scott Hill, director of the solutions group at Delta Solutions, a Houston integrator.

LaBrunerie said that one of the misconceptions about Licensing 6.0 is that customers think they are forced to upgrade. "Software Assurance is a choice." No customer has to buy Software Assurance, but of course they don't get the discounted upgrade, she said.


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