Microsoft to bolster Software Assurance program

Microsoft is planning several major changes to beef up features of Software Assurance, the company's maintenance and upgrade program.

Microsoft is planning several major changes to beef up features of Software Assurance, the company's maintenance and upgrade program that has been criticized for its expense and slow follow-up with new products.

The program, started in 2002, streamlined what was often a complex and expensive licensing routine for Microsoft products. Licensees who purchased Software Assurance had the right to upgrade their programs for no cost when new versions were released, in addition to receiving training and support.

But the value of Software Assurance was increasingly questioned as Microsoft delayed the release of certain key products such as its Windows Vista OS and SQL Server 2005.

In March, Microsoft will offer several enhancements to make customers feel they are getting more value from their Software Assurance package, said Amanda Abel, head of licensing and software asset management for Microsoft U.K. The price of Software Assurance will not change, Abel said.

Many of the changes come from feedback Microsoft received from its customers, Abel said. One major change is that Microsoft will now pay for one of its partners to visit organizations that have Software Assurance and conduct workshops to train employees on new versions of software, Abel said. The length of training depends on the Software Assurance package.

In the past, Microsoft would recommend training partners, but organizations had to pay.

Another new change is that employees working for companies with Software Assurance will be eligible for discounts on other software for their personal use. Other initiatives include more promotion of already-existing Software Assurance benefits, such as the right for an organization's employees to install software at home that their employer held licenses for, Abel said.

Microsoft is pushing hard to figure out ways to reduce piracy and the use of unlicensed software. The sacrifice of some revenue in exchange for getting consumers accustomed to getting legal software is "more important from a long-term revenue perspective," Abel said.

"It's a great way for those people to get legal software on their PCs," Abel said.

Another major change is that organizations won't have to purchase a second license for an unused backup server, Abel said. Previously, organizations had to possess a license for each server, even if one was just sitting on a shelf in case another crashed.

Microsoft will also allow customers to preview early versions of software in beta trials and a clearer road map for products. "We've been quite bad at that traditionally," she said.

Customers who have Premier Support can substitute Software Assurance support credits for special help, reducing their costs, she said. Phone support has been expanded to 24 hours daily for all Microsoft products eligible for Software Assurance

"We want to bring benefits that people want to use," Abel said.

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