Microsoft launches SME licensing crackdown

Son of SAM campaign will see mid-range companies forced to share information with Microsoft or risk a visit from the BSA

Microsoft could face a user revolt as it launches a campaign to get mid-range companies to submit to a software audit. Those who refuse risk having their details being handed to the Business Software Alliance (BSA) who will execute follow-up interviews that could result in fines and other penalties.

The company revealed on Monday that it is launching the campaign, which is aimed at companies that have not already joined similar licensing schemes such as the controversial Windows Genuine Advantage.

According to Ram Dhaliwal, licensing programme manager for Microsoft UK, the process will involve sending out questionnaires to all Microsoft's mid-range customers that are not part of one of Microsoft's licensing schemes and that are of a certain size.

"We are looking at companies with around 350 licences," Dhaliwal said. "We are dealing with big companies and the smallest companies in other areas,"

According to Dhaliwal, Microsoft wants to take "what they [its customers] are using, and what they have paid for" and match them together. This would show if a customer had more employees using a piece of software than they have paid for, or if some user licences were going unused.

This process normally falls under the heading of Software Asset Management (SAM) but, as Dhaliwal explained, the company has come up with another name. "We are calling this Software Audit and Asset Management or SAAM," he said.

Once Microsoft receives the information it can then "get a view" of customers, Dhaliwal said. He insisted that Microsoft wasn't simply planning to use this view to see ways of collecting more licence revenue from companies.

"Where customers have gone through the audit process, we find that almost 30 percent will discover that they are overpaying for licences that are unused. They typically order something and pay for it, and then find they do not have as many users as they thought they could," said Dhaliwal.

But users that have underpaid would be expected to pay for the extra licences they are found to need, Dhaliwal admitted.

Users who choose to ignore Microsoft's questionnaires face a three-stage process leading up to possible prosecution by the BSA, Dhaliwal said.

After being given two weeks to return their completed questionnaires, Microsoft would again contact users to remind them. If there is still no response, there would be an email warning that the company faced possible penalties, he said.

After five days, it there was still no response, the matter would be handed over to the BSA.

"I see this process as being very transparent," Dhaliwal said. "We know from our records what people have, we want to know what they use and then match the two together. That's all. It is just part of the of the SAAM process."

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