New Vista licences target large firms

New licensing models for Vista aimed at larger businesses follow a trend from Microsoft towards virtualisation, but will the new models be of any benefit?

Six months on from the enterprise launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft last week released new licensing options for virtualised and thin client environments running the Vista operating system.

So far, however, the two new licences are only available to Software Assurance customers using Windows Vista Enterprise, and indications from Computer Weekly readers suggest that many large users have no immediate plans to adopt Vista.

The first licence is free to Software Assurance users, giving them the right to use Windows Vista on "discless" PCs. These are essentially systems without hard drives that store their data centrally over the network.

Microsoft is partnering with PC makers to build what it describes as a "new form factor".

Microsoft's second offering is a new subscription licence called Windows Vista Enterprise Centralised Desktops (VECD). This allows users to run Vista on virtual machines on a centralised server, and access it from thin or thick clients.

Microsoft calls VECD a "superset" of the thin-client product Windows Terminal Services. However, it differs from Terminal Services in requiring more server resources to run, and is therefore more costly.

Scott Woodgate, director of Microsoft's Windows Business Group, said, "Most customers who ask for these options have sizeable IT departments and highly regulated, highly managed IT environments.

"They are looking to centralise their Windows experience for certain segments of their user base that are always connected, in the hope of benefiting from centralised management."

Ray Titcombe, chairman of the IBM Computer Users Association, said the users that would benefit most from the new options were large corporate enterprises with specific investments in server-side computing environments.

But he added, "This is also a clear case of Microsoft trying to beef up the Vista offering after a slow sales pattern from the time of announcement.

"Software Assurance is still something that Microsoft struggles to make the marketplace appreciate, or even invest in."

Frank Cordrey, vice-chairman of blue chip user group The Corporate IT Forum, said, "For larger organisations, the different licensing models are unlikely to be the be-all and end-all of early deployment.

"A lot will depend on how these models fit together with the general use of Windows software and the planned timing of upgrades."

Cordrey said he did not expect large corporate enterprises to buy into Vista unless they saw the benefit and the time was right.

"The difficulty, as always, will be the link between upgrade paths, timing and pricing. I suspect there will also be some confusion over what is and what can be included."

Microsoft declined to comment on how it expected the new licensing options to affect Vista sales. However, analysts said the new licences followed a trend from Microsoft towards increased virtualisation.

In October 2005, Microsoft simplified its virtual Windows licensing by allowing users to have four virtual machines running on top of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, and in October 2006, Microsoft went further to add unlimited virtualisation rights to Windows Swerver 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition at no extra cost.

Later this year, Microsoft also plans to release System Centre Virtual Machine Manager, a tool to help increase physical server utilisation and centralise the management and provisioning of virtual machines.

In mid-2008 Microsoft will unveil Viridian, its "hypervisor" virtualisation technology that will run on the forthcoming Windows Longhorn Server.

However, analyst firm Gartner noted that Microsoft has also made less user-friendly licensing changes, with Exchange 2007 users now having to pay for their Outlook clients.

Matthew Cain, research vice-president at Gartner, said, "By decoupling Outlook and Exchange licensing, Microsoft is attempting to drive faster upgrades to the Office 2007 suite."

How do vista sales break down?

Microsoft says it has sold 20 million copies of Vista this year, but has not broken down the figure, prompting speculation among IT commentators.

Jonathan Schlaffer, editor of dedicated Vista blogging, said, "What Microsoft has not said is how many of those copies were sold to retailers to put on store shelves, which may or may not have been sold to consumers by now."

He added that the figure of 20 million includes Windows XP desktops sold last year, which entitled users to an express upgrade to Vista.

"Not all those copies have been claimed. Some have been distributed, but the question remains how many people are actually installing them. To take it even further, Microsoft may even be counting computers sitting in stores with Vista installed that have not yet been sold," said Schlaffer.

Microsoft said, "We are not sharing the specific breakdown of sales at this time, but traditionally the bulk of Windows sales occur preinstalled on new PCs."

Microsoft has not revealed how many of the sales are to consumers and how many to enterprises.

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