Showbag won't make us buy: Microsoft users

In an effort to appease its disgruntled customer base after last year's Software Assurance licensing fiasco, Microsoft has unveiled a showbag of freebies that come into affect on September 1, but IT managers have already warned they can't be bought that easily.

Depending on the product, licence type and number of licences, there is a host of offerings from Microsoft including free technical support, software, training and installation tools.

However, IT managers claim their confidence in the vendor cannot be restored overnight after being pressured to join Software Assurance together with Microsoft's revamped volume licensing program Licensing 6.0 which was introduced in September 2001.

Software Assurance customers like Andrew Fisher, IS director of commercial property firm Knight Frank said the enhancements to the licensing program hardly restore his confidence in Microsoft.

"It's reacting to customer backlash and wanting to look like it's doing something about it," he said. His views agree with those of analysts who claim the vendor is making a public mea culpa of the missteps it made when announcing Licensing 6.0. Fisher is also unimpressed by the fact that only server product customers will be eligible for free technical support and non mission-critical support.

"I'm big on value-add, and the fact that support is only there for certain types of licensing customers doesn't show a depth of support [overall]," he said.

A network administrator at a large insurance firm, Jake Reiser, is happy with the added technical support which will make it easier to do large rollouts, but "we had to kick and scream about it for almost two years before [the company] started to offer more value for the dollar."

Microsoft product marketing manager for worldwide licensing and pricing, Rebecca LaBrunerie, described the announcement as an effort to reconnect with customers, to give them something back to strengthen the relationship.

"There was a lot of stress in that relationship and this move, which we hope is the first of many, is a way to let them know we've taken their feedback to heart," she said.

Analysts and customers alike described Software Assurance and Licensing 6.0 as nothing but a price hike when it was first introduced, because clients had to sign up or face big increases when they made the move to upgrade.

The technical support programs now available include a self-paced e-learning training course and free tools to help users better deploy software. The Corporate Error Reporting tool allows users to send bug reports to IT managers, and Win PE is a mini RAM-imaging tool that helps IT managers install software for numerous desktop systems. The company will also offer a TechNet tool that searches for relevant technical information.

The additions to the Software Assurance program are the result of talks with more than 2500 Microsoft customers around the world, LaBrunerie said.

However, the changes to the program are designed not only to address customer complaints but encourage more customers to buy into the plan. More than 65 per cent of Microsoft's enterprise customer base in Australia has some form of Software Assurance coverage, according to Australian licensing marketing manager, Thomas Kablau.

IDC vice president of research, Steve McHale, said additions to Software Assurance were needed to get customers interested and to bring it on par with software maintenance plans offered by other vendors while Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio estimates: "The sum total of what they are giving you in this goody bag adds considerable business value. It's worth about $US10,000 to a business with 100 to 200 users. To a very large company this could be worth millions in free stuff."

DiDio said although the additions to Software Assurance are "a very big first step", Microsoft can do more to reconcile differences with customers.

"You don't win trust back overnight. Microsoft has a lot of work to do to regain customer trust and confidence." w - with Ed Scannel

BREAKOUT BOX:

What you will get in Microsoft's free showbag Microsoft's main volume licence types are Open Licence, Select Licence and Enterprise Agreement. Software Assurance comes standard with the Enterprise Agreement, but costs a percentage of the licence fee per year to add to the other licences. The Software Assurance extras a user receives will depend on the product being licensed, the licence type and the number of licences bought. A chart detailing who gets what will be on Microsoft's Web site this week, a spokesman said. All Software Assurance takers for Microsoft's desktop products qualify for the new "Home Use Program", under which an employee of a company that takes out the program can get a copy of the software to use at home for the cost of shipping a CD, Microsoft said. However, users won't be allowed to take home the CD they use at the office, and employees will need to order a CD from Microsoft. The free support comes with Software Assurance for server products only, and telephone support during business hours is reserved for those who purchase Enterprise Editions of the server products, and even then is only for customers with certain licence types, Microsoft said. The support is for problem resolution only and won't replace "mission critical" support or any extensive support contracts customers have now, Microsoft said. Desktop software users can get some support through TechNet, Microsoft said. w -- Joris Evers

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