Analysts see brighter future for Software Assurance

Microsoft's subscription licensing plan is looking more attractive now that it's more or less mandatory, according to industry analysts

Analysts have predicted that many companies that have not yet bought into Microsoft's previously underused Software Assurance scheme will now make the move — not because they want to, but because they will soon have to.

Microsoft revealed back in September that some of the most compelling features of the upcoming Vista operating system, such as full disk encryption and multiple language support, will only be available to users of Vista who had taken out Software Assurance.

According to Gartner's latest advice, issued on Wednesday, this means companies that have not bought into the subscription licensing scheme "will need to re-evaluate their decisions".

Last year, Gartner suggested there was no rush to upgrade to Vista. Later, the firm amended its advice, saying companies needed to begin preparing for the upgrade right away, even though many would only be moving to Vista through hardware attrition — upgrading PCs as they become obsolete.

According to Gartner's latest research note, Windows customers face stark choices: "Companies who believe they will install Windows Vista on new PCs only through hardware attrition can buy Software Assurance within 90 days of buying the PC. The other option is to buy an Enterprise Agreement — which needs to cover all PCs in a company — or to purchase the Windows Professional Upgrade and SA through Open or Select."

Companies will have another alternative, though — ignore both Software Assurance and Vista and remain on their current platforms.

For Gartner, the most compelling reason for going along with Microsoft's strategy is the multiple-language support — Microsoft's Multi-language User Interface (MUI) — that will only be included with Vista under Software Assurance.

Other analysts agreed that Microsoft's tactics will force some large users to speed their adoption of Software Assurance.

"I think people are starting to go for this [Software Assurance] now," said Andy Buss, senior analyst with Canalys. "Microsoft got some things wrong to begin with but now they have a clear strategy at least."