Software audit nothing unusual: MS

Microsoft says questionnaires sent to customers asking for details of their IT systems are not a new phenomenon and not related to its contentious Software Assurance licensing programme.

Microsoft says questionnaires sent to customers asking for details of their IT systems are not a new phenomenon and not related to its contentious Software Assurance licensing programme.

Dubbed a licensing review process, the questionnaires are being distributed by licensing consultant Accordo Group on behalf of Microsoft.

One recipient, Fountain Apparel finance chief Franz Marwitz, objected to the inquiry, saying it bordered on “legal espionage”. He wasn’t prepared to give Microsoft any information beyond what it already knows.

The questionnaire asks businesses how many PCs they have, whether they have a standard desktop configuration, what Microsoft products are contained within that configuration, the number of users and version numbers, what they use for a network operating system and for messaging, details of applications that use SQL technology, whether they use Windows Terminal Server or have acquired Microsoft products under any other company names, what their standard desktop operating system is and details of any licences acquired outside the open licence programme (eg purchased with a machine). It also asks for the customer’s preferred reseller or contact person.

As it turns out, Auckland clothing manufacturer Fountain Apparel is over-licensed, owning 30 Windows 98 licences for 20 PCs and an NT server, says Marwitz. It uses Lotus 1-2-3 for word processing and spreadsheet software.

Microsoft’s manager of small and medium-sized business, Alex Morcom, says Microsoft has hired Accordo to work with it on an ongoing basis to help customers manage their software assets. He says the initiative has been around for three years.

Morcom says the programme is designed to help customers assess their software assets, understand their licensing options and ensure they are compliant with licensing requirements. He says that since Microsoft began working with Accordo it has received positive feedback from customers about the programme. Microsoft wouldn’t say how many customers were sent the questionnaire.

“In addition, the Business Software Alliance has reported that New Zealand’s software piracy rate has steadily declined over the last few years, suggesting that software asset management programmes like this are benefiting the industry overall.”

The Microsoft/Accordo email also says it may be worthwhile for recipients to consider whether they would like to get Upgrade Advantage before the end of July, so that they will be able to upgrade in future. After July 31 Upgrade Advantage is no longer available and companies must buy new licences.

Marwitz says in addition to the questionnaire he has received two phone calls from resellers regarding Microsoft licensing. He doesn’t plan to sign up to Upgrade Advantage — which automatically enrols an organisation into Software Assurance after July 31 — or Software Assurance itself. “We started out with SCO Unix, so I’m quite familiar with Unix. I think we’ll probably go back, but this time to Linux. However, I must give credit to the NT server, which has been very stable.”

Microsoft says it can’t provide specific numbers on how many customers have signed up for Software Assurance as it doesn’t launch in full until July 31. “However, Upgrade Advantage, which is an entry point for Software Assurance, is going extremely well with a significant number of businesses taking advantage,” says Morcom.

Accordo Group partner Vicky McCullough says every Microsoft customer at some point will be “touched on the shoulder”.

“Software licensing is very complicated and people want to know what they’re using and whether they are compliant.”

She says there are always a “handful” of customers that complain. “Whether we do it for the customer at their request or under the auspices of a [software] publisher, 99 out of 100 customers are happy with the result at the end of it.”

She says an audit doesn’t always lead to an invoice being delivered to the company being assessed.

“For non-compliant software we usually say ‘let’s look at what we can do over the next two to three years: there may be a different type of implementation we can go into that offsets this’.”

Meanwhile, a straw poll of IT executives taken at a lunch last week held by CIO magazine found that several had signed up to Software Assurance for their servers, but not for their desktop machines.

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