Microsoft license shift creates turmoil

Microsoft's announcement earlier this month that it has restructured its volume licensing and upgrade policies has sent IT managers scrambling to review their current contracts.

          Microsoft's announcement earlier this month that it has restructured its volume licensing and upgrade policies has sent IT managers scrambling to review their current contracts.

          While the changes are good news for some, many companies are still unsure what they will mean to their budgets and operations. And some IT shops will be forced into expensive, time-consuming audits of their systems just to see where they stand.

          Microsoft said it will extend its Select agreement to three years from two, lower the number of workstations from 500 to 250 to qualify for its Enterprise license, and offer subscription licensing, starting this fall. The company's new Software Assurance upgrade policy will replace a handful of other programs it now offers.

          At Delta Technology, the Atlanta-based IT subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc., spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said he's not sure yet about what the new licensing provisions will mean for his company's 45,000 Windows-based desktop PCs.

          "We are still in the process of reviewing the changes and analyzing what impacts they will have," Ebenhoch said. But because his company is still in the midst of an upgrade to Windows 2000, he said, his initial feeling is that it won't be immediately affected by the pending changes, which take effect Oct. 1. Existing contracts Delta Technology has with Microsoft for support for Windows 2000 will continue to remain in force, he said.

          Cloudy Implications

          IT shops not currently working on upgrades may not be so lucky.

          "A lot of companies are going to spend a lot of time and money just trying to figure out the implications," said Don Bussell, president of Omicron-Chicago, a Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based independent user organization for large IT sites. Bussell said a lot of IT managers will be running unplanned audits of every workstation in their company to determine what Microsoft software is on them, which release it is and whether it needs to be upgraded.

          "If you don't have a great asset-management system, it's going to be an expensive pain right now," Bussell said.

          Joe Rowell, technology manager at Seattle-based Inchcape Shipping Services Ltd., said his company hasn't concluded what the cost implications of Microsoft's policy shift will be. But he said he isn't concerned about overseeing a time-consuming audit.

          Rowell said his company is part of the Microsoft Select program, which means that Microsoft keeps a list of all of the software his company uses. He said he compares that with his own asset management software from Remedy Corp. in Mountain View, Calif., to get a complete view of his licensed software.

          While some users privately complained that the change appears to be just another way for Microsoft to make more money, others were upbeat about the new program.

          "This is a good thing," said Tom Nolan, director of IT at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in New York. "It guarantees stable prices over the life of the agreement."

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