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Microsoft: Don't sweat over software licensing

As Microsoft makes changes to its Windows Genuine Advantage program, the company reveals it is also building tools to make software licensing more transparent

Changes made this week to Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) licence management program have caused mixed feelings among users, but the company has insisted its licensing strategy is mainly aimed at helping users, not penalising them.

The Microsoft strategy is aimed at "helping companies get the maximum value out of their licences ", according to the company's UK licensing program manager, Ram Dhaliwal, who said that the company is preparing a number of tools to help.

"We are creating a customer tool-kit," Dhaliwal told ZDNet UK. "That is about a month away and part of that will be a three-step process to help with tools and policies. We used to have about 50 tools, and what we have done is just map them and put them in one place."

Microsoft faced a lot of heat over WGA Notifications after it delivered a prerelease version of the tool alongside security fixes, perhaps turning Windows users into unsuspecting guinea pigs. Also, WGA Notifications was found to ping a Microsoft server after each system restart, a behaviour the company did not disclose.

The changes made this week to the WGA scheme mean that the application no longer contacts Microsoft every time the system is restarted. It is also easier to remove the Notifications feature.

Dhaliwal insisted that this was all part of Microsoft's effort to make the licence process easier to understand and comply with, but acknowledged that one of the problems is the sheer complexity of licensing.

"We have got a lot of licensing strategies and that is where the complexity comes in," he said. "We have had a lot of feedback, from one-man organisations to very large organisations."

Dhaliwal says he has high hopes that the emerging BSI standard for software asset management (Sam) may help companies understand the issues behind software licensing.

"The ISO standard put a stake in the ground and there is the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) guide," he said. "We are plugging in Sam so it is not thought of as an afterthought."

Dhaliwal believes that many of the reasons people are disenchanted and even angry with licensing is based on misunderstandings. Microsoft, he says, is making every effort to explain licensing strategy, where the high costs come in and where there are savings to be made, but he believes much of it is based around trying to give the customer more information.

"There is a Nirvana but basically it is just a mindset change," he said. "The bottom line is that you have got to do the review, find out what you have got, find out the licenses [costs]. But once you get past that, all it is is incremental changes."