Windows Vista Enterprise exclusive to users who sign up to subscription licence model
IT directors have reacted angrily to Microsoft's decision to make its Software Assurance licensing scheme compulsory for organisations that want to use the enterprise version of Vista, the next Windows operating system.
The news emerged when the company last week announced the latest update to its main enterprise licensing arrangements.
Microsoft said, "Windows Vista Enterprise is a new edition of Windows, available exclusively to Software Assurance customers, that is designed to help corporate customers lower desktop infrastructure costs and improve IT efficiency."
Vista Enterprise includes a tool to help large firms with legacy hardware integration and a software virtualisation feature.
David Rippon, vice-chairman of British Computer Society IT managers group Elite, said it was a clear attempt to leverage incremental revenues from users. "I think the adverse public relations that Microsoft will suffer will more than offset any monetary gains it may achieve," he said.
Owen Williams, head of IT at property company Knight Frank, said, "Organisations are likely to be angry that their decision not to take Software Assurance was based on licence options which have now changed."
Nick Leake, ITV's director of operations, said restricting access to enterprise products to Software Assurance customers was inflexible in the extreme. "It seems clear that increasingly the world will polarise around wall-to-wall Microsoft sites and those organisations that become Microsoft-free zones and take the benefits of open source software."
In response to user concerns, Microsoft said, "It is too early to go into further details regarding specifics of the Windows Vista offerings. We will continue to listen to our customers in helping us to evaluate the need for enterprise-only products in future versions of Windows."
Michael Azoff, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "Microsoft wants to move users onto the subscription model and, for the next generation of the operating system, customers are just going to have to put up with it."
However, the Software Assurance package includes substantial fringe benefits. "Microsoft is trying to soften the blow of what, for a lot of customers, will be a more expensive licensing scheme," said Azoff. Its success will depend on whether people are willing to pay, or there is a mass reaction. In the past Microsoft had responded to user pressure, he added.
Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group, said, "This shows Microsoft continues to be unsure of how to handle large and complex customers. Situations such as this emphasise the need for strong, independent user groups and umbrella organisations such as the Strategic Supplier Relationship Group [which brings together 11 of the UK's most influential IT user groups] to protect users' interests and ensure clarity in the communication of intentions, benefits and needs."