Microsoft: don't railroad users into new licences

"We are being exploited! It needs to be stopped!"

"We are being exploited! It needs to be stopped!"

These are not the words of a wage-slave in a third world sweatshop factory. They are the comments of the head of IT at one of the UK's biggest companies, referring to the dramatic changes that Microsoft proposes to make to its software licensing regime. They are typical of the comments received by Computer Weekly in a recent survey of our 500 Club, which is made up of the heads of IT of the UK's 500 largest companies and their public sector equivalents.

Microsoft is abolishing its key software upgrade discount schemes and introducing a new subscription licensing option under which users effectively rent software for an annual fee. The changes make it much more attractive for users to go for the subscription licensing option, or to upgrade more frequently if they do not - largely by making other options much more expensive.

The changes were originally announced on 10 May, to little reaction from users. But now, with little more than three weeks to go until the 30 September deadline when most existing licensing options evaporate, more and more companies are adding up the numbers and getting very unpalatable answers.

One major UK-based multinational has calculated that the changes will result in it paying Microsoft between £5m and £20m more next year than this year. Members of The Infrastructure Forum (Tif), which represent a significant slice of the FTSE 100, reckon the cost increase could be up to 130% for some organisations. With this sort of money riding on the deal users strike with Microsoft, it is important that UK businesses get it right.

Yet most organisations have still not gone through the options in enough detail to work out the costs and benefits. If you print out the information on the changes published on Microsoft's Web site it runs to several hundred A4 pages. And the few that have gone through the numbers say they do not have enough information about Microsoft's future product roadmap to calculate accurately the full implications of each option.

Which is why Elite, Imis and Socitm are absolutely right to call on Microsoft to give users a breathing space and put back the decision deadline from 1 October to 31 May next year.

Microsoft has already bowed to user pressure over the proposed changes. It has put back the expiry date for one key upgrade option, Upgrade Advantage, to 28 February, after users railed at the initial plans to bring in all the changes on 1 October. And UK public sector organisations have wrung a further extension from Microsoft, to 30 April.

The Seattle giant should now give users the extra time and information they need to make an informed decision on its new licensing regime.

If it does not, trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt should step in to protect UK users.

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