Free consultancy services and improved hotfix support will be included in Microsoft's update of its Software Assurance subscription licensing scheme, due to be launched in March.
The main benefit of Software Assurance has always been the ability to get the latest versions of Microsoft software at no additional cost. And with Windows Vista due out later this year, users will need to assess whether to buy Software Assurance to get an upgrade to the new operating system.
David Mitchell, practice leader for software at analyst firm Ovum, said, "For a lot of people Software Assurance does make sense. It is more than just traditional support and maintenance. If you are looking at Vista in the next 18 months, Software Assurance could prove cost-effective."
Mitchell highlighted changes to Software Assurance that would give immediate benefits. The first is free consulting for desktop deployments, which Mitchell said would help users implement Windows Active Directory configurations needed for tight IT administration on Windows desktop PCs.
From March 2006, users who buy Software Assurance will be eligible for up to 10 days of consulting on desktop deployment delivered either on-site or remotely by Microsoft Consulting Services and Microsoft certified partners.
Software Assurance will also provide on-demand hotfixes that require no initial registration or fee prior to the time users need to activate the service.
Mitchell said, "Microsoft will only charge you from the day you require a hotfix." Some suppliers ask for back payments if you do not take out a normal service contract and then request a hotfix.
However, users who want to take advantage of Extended Hotfix Support 2006 would need a Premier or Essential Support agreement, Microsoft said.
In another change, users who buy Software Assurance with a Premier Support contract will be able to swap phone-based support for a Premier Problem Resolution incident, which Microsoft said offered personalised support with a technical account manager.
Microsoft antitrust compliance
The European Commission is considering whether Microsoft has complied with its 2004 antitrust judgement by handing over its Windows Server source code.
It had asked Microsoft to provide documentation associated with its Windows Workgroup Server protocols. The demand was designed to make it easier for Microsoft's competitors to build server products that could work in Windows environments.
However, Microsoft has provided the European Commission with tens of millions of lines of source code - something analysts believe will do little to aid interoperability, because of the effort required to analyse the code.