Microsoft changes Software Assurance licensing

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Microsoft has made changes to its Software Assurance licensing program, including benefits and asking corporations to pay up for Windows Vista enterprise edition when the new operating system finally ships next year.

Software Assurance (SA) was launched in the US in 2001. Customers paid an annual fee of 25 to 29 percent of the outright licence for the right to upgrade over a two or three year period.

Microsoft said it would make eight changes to SA that would be rolled out next March.

The changes included new training and consulting services, cheaper costs and simplified, around-the-clock technical support, such as for its extended hotfix service, the company said in its official announcement mid-September.

Also, Windows Vista Enterprise Edition would only be available to SA customers, the company said.

Thomas Kablau, licensing product manager at Microsoft Australia, said all the SA changes would apply to Australian resellers in line with the vendor's current channel licensing.

"The new and enhanced benefits in SA will be available to Australian customers in March 2006, with the exception of the Windows Vista Enterprise benefit," he said.

Kablau said resellers should watch for more information on Windows Vista editions as it progressed through beta. The vendor would seek feedback on its plans too, he said.

Customers using SA for their client OS client operating system would also get Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, originally codenamed Eiger.

Eiger was a Windows-based operating system application that Microsoft claimed would help customers reduce Total Cost of Ownership while lifting security and manageability of legacy hardware, Kablau said.

That would also be available from 2006, he said.

Server incidents could be submitted online around the clock but Microsoft only responded in business hours. The new around-the-clock phone support for "business-critical outages" would cover server products, Windows and Office. "Web response is and phone incident submission access was business hours," Kablau said.

"Customers also are no longer required to track their SA coverage by licences to use phone support," he said. "This support will be extended to include Open Value customers in addition to Enterprise and Select customers."

However, Kablau said "eligible customers" would get a specific allotment for around-the-clock support dependent on their SA spend. SA "incidents" could also be swapped for a higher level of support, dubbed Premier Problem Resolution.

Microsoft has claimed the SA changes will save resellers time and money. However, Kablau would not say precisely how.

Kablau also would not say whether more changes to SA were expected this year, or whether Microsoft was considering any other changes to its licensing program in general.

Meanwhile, a US analyst, Paul DeGroot of Directions on Microsoft, has suggested SA was due for a revamp.

"Software Assurance has outlived its usefulness," said DeGroot told US-based IT news website Techweb last month. "The farther we get into this [new upgrade cycle], the less attractive SA has begun to look."

Research firms such as Gartner and JupiterResearch have previously questioned SA's economics, it said. In the US, some reports have claimed that only a fraction of Microsoft customers signed up.

However, DeGroot was reported by Techweb as saying that linking Vista Enterprise to SA was a positive move.

"That's the most important new benefit, the additional technical support hours and the elimination of some of the caveats and restrictions on support," he was quoted as saying.

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