Microsoft tries to save Software Assurance

Microsoft is to add technical support, training, deployment planning and other side benefits to its controversial Software Assurance licensing program this week, according to leaked documents.

The changes follow a set of improvements added in September 2003, and are designed to placate customers who feel the program doesn't offer value for money. Software Assurance gives customers free access to upgrades for a three-year period, as well as a range of benefits including training and support discounts, in exchange for a subscription fee.

However, businesses are choosing to upgrade less and less frequently, and are often on five-year upgrade cycles, according to industry analysts. The program replaced a popular option that allowed customers to pay a discounted rate for upgrades, and to upgrade at their leisure.

Delays in the rollout of Microsoft products such as Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP, have also meant that many customers didn't get access to as much as expected.

The bundle of new benefits -- expected to be granted retroactively to existing Software Assurance customers -- is supposed to change the program's negative image by cutting costs for support and deployment, and giving access to additional technology.

Several published reports, citing confidential sources, said Microsoft would add desktop deployment planning services to the program. These services involve Microsoft helping customers arrange desktop rollouts. Customers spending $US60,000 will get a free day of planning services; $US300,000 gets three days; $US600,000 gets five days; and $US1.25 million gets 10 days, reports said.

Customers will get more free support incidents, depending on how much they spend, and the 24x7 Web-based incident support currently available to servers will be extended to more customer types, reports said.

Microsoft will offer more training vouchers for Office and Windows, will give a Windows Vista upgrade licence and a Virtual PC Express licence for each Windows client licence covered under Software Assurance, according to the reports. This version of Virtual PC is intended to allow users to run multiple versions of Windows simultaneously on a single machine, reducing compatibility issues.

Customers will also be granted licences to Windows Eiger, a stripped-down version of Windows XP intended as a stop-gap for customers wanting newer software but not yet ready to replace old hardware, according to a report from industry journal Microsoft Watch.

Microsoft confirmed that the new incentives will be unveiled in a series of Webcasts on September 15, but could not immediately offer further comment.

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Matthew Broersma
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