Through the Step-up Licence programme, users who purchased Software Assurance or an Enterprise agreement for the standard edition of a Microsoft server product will be able to upgrade to the enterprise edition by paying only the price differential for the licence plus Software Assurance.
Under the existing system, customers must buy a new licence when moving from the standard edition of a server product to the enterprise edition.
Customers pay an annual fee of 25% of the volume licensing cost to get Software Assurance, which entitles them to all upgrades released during the contract time frame and some new free support and training options.
A vice-president of IT procurement at a multinational media conglomerate, who asked not to be identified, said that if his company had access to the Step-up program sooner, it might have made different decisions last year when it purchased SQL Server Enterprise Edition CPU licences for an IT project.
The cost differential between the standard and enterprise editions can be "huge," he added. He said that with his particular Select licence agreement, the enterprise edition of SQL Server costs about $22,400 (£13,429) for a single processor licence, plus three years of Software Assurance.
The standard edition is about $5,600 (£3,357) for the licence and three years of Software Assurance, he said.
The IT vice-president said that when the Step-up programme takes effect, he will opt for the standard edition and pay the incremental cost for the enterprise edition licence "only if we need it".
The Step-up programme is scheduled to be available only through September 2004. But Alvin Park, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft should make the Step-up Licence permanent.
Park said Microsoft also should expand the Step-up Licence beyond server software to other products. He noted that the Step-up Licence essentially reinstates the product upgrade programme Microsoft dropped in 2001.
"If customers tell us they want us to keep it permanently, we'll look at that," said Rebecca LaBrunerie, product manager of worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft. She added that Microsoft would also consider extending the Step-up Licence to additional products.
Carol Sliwa writes for Computerworld