Microsoft gave a major boost to the development of multi-core processors and threw down a challenge to other software suppliers last week.
The software giant said that users who pay for their licences on a per-processor basis would be able to use next-generation multi-core processors at no extra cost.
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Multi-core processors, which consist of two or more processing execution units - cores - on one chip, boost computing power because they allow servers, workstations and PCs to perform more functions simultaneously.
Next year, Intel and AMD plan to deliver dual-core processors, with multi-core processors to come later.
In a paper examining multi-core technology, Gartner analyst Alvin Park warned that the deployment of two or more cores on a single chip could increase users’ software licensing costs.
Mark Buckley, UK licensing marketing manager at Microsoft, said, "We are laying our cards on the table, and saying customers have the choice of going per-processor or per-seat. The multicore technology is not available today, it is available tomorrow, but we wanted to signal our decision now."
Neil Macehiter, research director at analyst firm Ovum, said, "Microsoft is clearly trying to get people onto volume licences. It will also give people with three to five-year licensing deals the ability to plan."
Other suppliers, such as Oracle, have chosen licensing policies that treat dual-core chips as if they are two separate processors, and are charging users accordingly. Oracle maintained its licensing policy would remain the same. "The principle is that one core equals one CPU and Oracle has a per-CPU charge."
Macehiter added that users might face a difficult situation in the future if suppliers continue to charge per core. Confusion could occur if an Oracle database or application is run on a Windows-based multi-core server, for example.