Users challenge unrepentant Microsoft on licence changes

Microsoft: With just over a month to go before new volume licensing charges come into force, James Rogers finds users still...

Microsoft: With just over a month to go before new volume licensing charges come into force, James Rogers finds users still concerned about the impact of the new regime on business

Last week the Computer Weekly 500 Club of key IT professionals met in London to discuss the effects of the controversial Microsoft licensing strategy, which sparked outrage in the user community when it was announced last year.

Organisations fear they will see a rise in software licensing costs as a result of the changes.

A user revolt, backed by an award-winning Computer Weekly campaign, has forced the software giant to twice delay implementation of the strategy.

With the deadline looming, users are starting to look ahead to the long-term implications of the new volume licensing charges and their future relationships with Microsoft.

One of the key issues raised by members of the 500 Club (an invitation-only club for senior IT managers) was the ongoing need for information on software licensing and product roadmaps from Microsoft.

Industry watchers have already expressed their concern that Microsoft is attempting to control the pace of software upgrades, and companies that want longer intervals will be penalised under the new scheme.

Even Microsoft executives have admitted that they did not do the best job of making users aware of software licensing changes, eventually spending £1m to explain the changes.

The company has also acknowledged that the issue of software licensing has been an extremely complex one, although it claims that its new strategy is designed to improve this.

Nevertheless, Microsoft seems to be prepared to bow to user pressure for an easy-to-understand flow chart detailing the licensing options.

However, the long-term implications are users' main concern, including future compatibility of Microsoft Office products with those of other suppliers.

Users also urged the software giant to publish a clear roadmap of product upgrades to help businesses with preparations to make the move to Software Assurance.

The Microsoft hotline number is 0870-6010100

Computer Weekly 500 Club's written Q and A with Microsoft:

Q: Would you participate in discussions with a new, independent user group focused on software licensing?
A:
Of course we would. We already engage with a number of user bodies in the UK and are always very keen to get feedback from customers as to how we can improve our licensing options in the future.

Q: Under what circumstances can users transfer software licences across countries under the new licensing terms?
A:
We have not altered the provisions within our contracts for the transfer of the licences. There are some restrictions placed on transfers between countries due to the nature of company boundaries and secondly because of US government export restrictions. More specific details can be found at www.microsoft.com/exporting

Q: What guarantees can you give that future versions of Microsoft Office products will not be incompatible with non-Microsoft products.
A:
It is difficult for us to give a definitive commitment to ongoing compatibility with non-Microsoft products as we design our software to meet our customers' requirements now and in the future. Of course, it would not make sense for us to release products that were not compatible with other products being used on the market.

Q: What plans are there to produce an easy-to-understand flow-chart of the new software licensing terms?
A:
If customers feel that this would help them make better informed decisions on which is the most appropriate licensing model, we will consider this. We have provided a great deal of guidance and support to our customers and partners. For more information, customers can always visit our Web site: www.microsoft.com/uk/licensing

Q: Do you plan to intensify your process of auditing the licence status of Microsoft products in user organisations?
A:
No. We will be shifting the focus of our activities in this area. Over time licensing has been very complex - overly so - and the changes to our licensing programmes announced in May 2001 were designed to improve this. The complexity has made software asset management very challenging, particularly for large organisations that operate decentralised purchasing regimes.

We want to be more proactive in helping customers to gain control of their licensing through stronger software asset management disciplines. We are developing tools that will allow our customers to review their licensing position across all licence types on a world-wide basis and we hope to make these tools directly available to customers and move to incorporating software asset management services for customers with any volume licensing agreement.

Q: What plans are there to publish a clear roadmap of product upgrades for businesses planning to make the move to Software Assurance?
A:
In a highly competitive market where customers' needs change rapidly, it is difficult to give a long-term picture or road map of future product releases. That said, we talk often to customers about our ongoing development plans and, if you look back historically, we release upgrades to our software on a regular basis.

Q: Would Microsoft buy products from a supplier containing the conditions imposed in its own software licence contracts?
A:
In principle, of course we would. As with any commercial agreement, we would look at whether or not it made sense for us as a business and make the decision accordingly.

Q: Would you agree that making such a whole-scale software licensing change within a relatively short period of time has placed unreasonable strain on user organisations?
A:
We don't believe that this has been in a short time frame. We initially announced the changes in May 2001 and since then have, in response to feedback from our customers, extended the deadline twice. We have continued to encourage our customers to evaluate their licensing options before 31 July 2002.

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