To fight piracy, Microsoft tightens MSDN and TechNet terms again

To fight piracy, Microsoft tightens MSDN and TechNet terms again

Summary: Microsoft is about to crack down on software pirates who exploit its generous MSDN and TechNet programs. If you're a current subscriber, you may get caught in the crossfire.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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For years, Microsoft has offered some of its most generous software deals to its partners and software developers.

The subscription-based MSDN and TechNet offerings allow consultants, resellers, and software developers to roll up their sleeves and try out just about any Microsoft program, past or present, for a low annual subscription rate.  For an annual subscription price of $349, TechNet Professional subscribers get access to nearly every release of every operating system (desktop and server) and Office suite that Microsoft has ever made. MSDN subscribers pay more but also get access to a cornucopia of software.

It’s a tremendous deal. Maybe too good a deal, in fact, as software pirates long ago discovered that the product keys delivered to MSDN and TechNet subscribers could easily be resold along with counterfeit discs.

The result was practically a license to print money. Last month, at a client’s office, I inspected 10 copies of Windows 7 Professional that my client had purchased from a web-based retailer for more than $100 each. The software was counterfeit, but it looked good enough to pass a cursory inspection. And the keys were taken directly from a $349 TechNet subscription.

That’s $1000 in revenue on that one transaction alone, and the pirate behind the operation still had hundreds of keys to resell—for other versions of Windows, for multiple versions of Office and individual Office programs, and for Microsoft server software.

In all, that pirate could easily collect tens of thousands of dollars in revenue by illegally reselling license keys from a single low-cost subscription.

So, if you’re Microsoft, how do you fight back against that kind of determined piracy?

You tighten the terms on those subscriptions, of course. And in the process, you inspire howls of protest from current subscribers.

Microsoft cut TechNet product key allotments back in March, for the second time in two years. Now it’s making additional changes to the TechNet and MSDN programs, with the goal of making them less attractive to pirates while still keeping them useful for partners.

Here’s what the new subscription terms will entail when they take effect later this month:

Fewer license keys. For current versions of Windows client software and Microsoft Office, the number of product keys that MSDN subscribers will be allowed is reduced from 10 to 5. For older versions, only three keys are allowed. TechNet subscribers will continue to be allowed three product keys per version.

Fewer keys available per day. If you’re an MSDN or TechNet subscriber, the number of keys you can claim per day will be reduced from approximately 55 to 10. The intent, of course, is to prevent would-be pirates from paying for a new subscription and then quickly claiming hundreds of product keys and reselling them to unsuspecting customers.

Fewer products. In current editions of these subscription-based offerings, you can download any version of Microsoft Office as well as the standalone products that make up the Office collection. When the new terms kick in, all of those standalone programs will be removed, along with older, unsupported software versions. You’ll no longer be able to download Office 97 or Windows 98, for example.

For TechNet customers, the biggest change of all is the elimination of perpetual license rights. Currently, you’re allowed to continue using any software and product keys you download as part of your TechNet membership, even after your subscription expires. Under the revised terms, new and renewing subscribers will get time-based rights that apply during the subscription term only. The new, simplified subscription agreement makes it clear:

The subscription provides you with access to software and associated benefits. When your subscription concludes, you will no longer have access to the software or any associated benefits and must discontinue your use of the software.

That doesn’t mean that the software itself will stop working, of course. Instead, the license expires along with the subscription, and you’re expected to stop using the evaluation copies.

Although the changes sound drastic, the actual impact should be minor for most subscribers. Each product key can be activated multiple times, which means that an allotment of 3-5 keys can used for dozens of installations. A legitimate subscriber can also request additional keys, and Microsoft says that each such request should be honored within three days. The company says it has also beefed up its support escalation process to deal with potential issues caused by the change in terms.

The new TechNet subscription agreement (four pages of plain language, compared to the current 15 pages of legalese) also makes it clear that the program is for evaluation and isn’t intended as a way to acquire cheap licenses. These bullet points are in section 4 of the new terms:

  • You may not use the software if you do not have an active subscription.
  • You may install and use the software on your devices only to evaluate the software.
  • You may not use the software in a live operating environment, in a staging environment, or with data that has not been backed up.

If you’re a current subscriber to any of the affected programs, you have a couple weeks before the new terms take effect. Product keys you claim now will remain available later, as will software you download.

Given the scope of piracy, these changes are understandable, but for longtime subscribers they’ll be a bit of a shock. Cue the howls of protest in 3, 2, 1 …

 

Topic: Microsoft

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67 comments
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  • Never understood why they even had technet subscriptions..

    For $349 they can redeem 100 keys in a few days, use what they need and sell the rest. I don't think a tech net user legitimately need more than 5 keys a week imo. And don't say you need to demo something on 10 different machines to users. The licenses are per user...no one is allowed to use software from another person's key unless they also have an active MSDN sub of at least the same level. I think the tech net subscribers should have to login to their MSDN account once a month to renew their keys personally. Although that might not stop pirates from making a quick buck, it might cause enough trouble that it's not worth it for a few hundred dollars. Full MSDN subscriptions retail are almost cost prohibitive so I don't think this would apply there.

    For people who work for MS Gold partners that get an allowance for full MSDN Premium/Ultimate subscriptions, we constantly have to learn the features of the newest product versions by creating our own lab environments on a VM or personal machine. Kind of hard to pass a cert exam with no hands on experience and these licenses allow you to create a sandbox for that learning. I hate 'trying' new things out even in a company's development environment because I know it could affect other developers who do their day to day on the web/database servers or by needing to reboot multiple times.
    dtdono0
    • Different programs for different audiences

      TechNet is for IT professionals.

      MSDN is for developers.

      Action Pack is for partners that don't meet "Certified Partner" status (there are two options - one for consultants/resellers, another for developers).
      Joe_Raby
      • Only thing they have in common

        They're all PWND.
        klumper
        • Useless Comment

          Why do comments like this get up-voted while other constructive ones get flagged into oblivion? *sigh*

          Can you elaborate on what you mean by "PWND"?
          Croatonik
          • 6 get it, 1 doesn't ...

            What does that tell you (except that you're the one)?

            *ding [n00b] dong*
            klumper
          • Read into it.

            I don't know about you, but not all IT Pros and consultant businesses have money to buy every license imaginable.

            New products come out and, after a point, it's cheaper - or it was - to use a TechNet subscription to stay current with products and studying them. It's not cheap keeping up current, and noting this is the same company whose executives even said they wanted other countries to pirate as means to compete against cheaper alternatives*, it's a bit disingenuous on their part to be curbing piracy issues in areas whose piracy rates are far, far lower than the piracy rates of countries they're helping... even an article with the title "Does Microsoft's sharing of source code with China and Russia pose a security risk?" spoke volumes about double standards, credibility, sincerity, and a few other factors...


            * from an article entitled "How Gates Conquered China": "By 2001, Microsoft executives were coming to the conclusion that China's weak IP-enforcement laws meant its usual pricing strategies were doomed to fail. Gates argued at the time that while it was terrible that people in China pirated so much software, if they were going to pirate anybody's software he'd certainly prefer it be Microsoft's.

            Today Gates openly concedes that tolerating piracy turned out to be Microsoft's best long-term strategy. That's why Windows is used on an estimated 90% of China's 120 million PCs. "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not," Gates says. "Are you kidding? You can get the real thing, and you get the same price." Indeed, in China's back alleys, Linux often costs more than Windows because it requires more disks. And Microsoft's own prices have dropped so low it now sells a $3 package of Windows and Office to students."
            HypnoToad72
          • LOL

            Linux requires "more discs?" Since when? Most every Linux distro can be fit on a single 700MB CD-R and it has always been this way. Sure, corporate environments might need the support of a Red Hat or a Novell, but an average user who pays for a Linux distro is being ripped off.

            Simply download it for free from the Internet. No license, no fees, no piracy warnings, no WGA prompts, no hassle, no BS MS antics.
            KodiacZiller
  • The headline talks about MSDN, but there is no info about that

    The headline talks about MSDN, but there is no info about that in the article? So do you have data on the MSDN changes?
    oldsysprog
    • The MSDN changes are specifically outlined

      Use your browser's Find function to search for MSDN and you will see the changes.
      Ed Bott
      • The high road...

        It seems a prerequisite nowadays to respond to somewhat ignorant comments with dick'ish sarcasm. Well done Ed!
        mpantana
  • Keep it up, Microsoft

    Might make Linux even more attractive.

    ;)
    CaviarBlack
    • Nothing will ever make

      Linux more attractive to the vast majority of people

      ;)
      William Farrel
      • When you start ripping people off, it will

        And that looks like another drop in the bucket.
        CaviarBlack
      • Good to see that flag still works

        More lol...
        CaviarBlack
        • Yeah they keep the idiotic flag

          for the pinhead reactionaries and dump EDIT and markup controls instead.

          NICE GOING ZDNET STAFF.
          klumper
          • That's Wilie Farrell's favorite tool

            Next to WGA.

            :p
            CaviarBlack
      • Hey Willy Farrel

        Have you noticed ZDNET is now hosted by Google, don't think they run Windows server do they ? Oh you are now using something Linux powered.
        Alan Smithie
        • look again, not zdnet not hosted by google

          Hosted on AWS, see what LD said on the announcement:
          http://www.zdnet.com/welcome-to-the-new-zdnet-7000000040/
          brentgee
    • The majority of people

      have no idea what MSDN or technet is. They just want to use their machines. Selling MSDN copies of windows is ridiculous, but there are better ways to sell windows if you are going to do it in a un-legit fashion.
      Jimster480
    • Find a news article entitled 'How Gates Conquered China'

      Here's an excerpt that speaks volumes on any number of topics:

      ***
      "By 2001, Microsoft executives were coming to the conclusion that China's weak IP-enforcement laws meant its usual pricing strategies were doomed to fail. Gates argued at the time that while it was terrible that people in China pirated so much software, if they were going to pirate anybody's software he'd certainly prefer it be Microsoft's.

      Today Gates openly concedes that tolerating piracy turned out to be Microsoft's best long-term strategy. That's why Windows is used on an estimated 90% of China's 120 million PCs. "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not," Gates says. "Are you kidding? You can get the real thing, and you get the same price." Indeed, in China's back alleys, Linux often costs more than Windows because it requires more disks. And Microsoft's own prices have dropped so low it now sells a $3 package of Windows and Office to students."

      ***

      There's no way to spin around that. He wants things both ways. One may as well knowingly sell a defective product and then be so slimy as to scapegoat the customer for the fault so he doesn't have to pony up for his own poor decision making and customer slamming... but that's another issue...
      HypnoToad72