Microsoft 'must do better' on software assurance

IT directors, analysts and resellers are united: Microsoft's Software Assurance programme must be improved. Will Thursday's announcement go far enough?

The UK IT industry is looking for big improvements to Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing programme, when the supplier announces changes to the scheme on Thursday.

A cross-section of analysts, resellers and IT directors agreed on Tuesday that its Software Assurance (SA) licensing scheme does not work as it stands.

The software giant has come under pressure to improve the four-year-old scheme after complaints from users that the programme does not deliver value. Delayed upgrades and new products have prevented some users benefiting from the scheme, which lets businesses buy Microsoft products under a subscription scheme.

After a series of roundtables and discussions with user groups the software maker has raised hopes that it will deliver substantial improvements to the scheme.

Ray Titcombe, chairman of the Strategic Supplier Relationship Group is hoping to hear Microsoft announce significant changes on Thursday.

"I'm convinced Microsoft will show themselves receptive to feedback. They will take a view if enough people engage with them. Passive customers are the worst thing they need," said Titcombe, whose organisation includes many of the UK's largest independent user groups.

Zoe Turnbull, IT director Sheppard Construction, does not subscribe to Microsoft's SA scheme. "We've never paid for SA because we never saw the value in it. At the moment we're just going from [Windows] NT to 2003 we completely skipped 2000 but if we were on the SA scheme we would have had to pay for it," said Turnbull.

Turnbull said she would only be swayed to subscribe to Microsoft's SA scheme if it changed to a more on-demand model.

The programme's lack of flexibility is a key failing, according to James Governor, founder of analyst house Redmonk.

"If you are committed to the entire Microsoft product range then [SA] makes a lot of sense. However, that's probably a tiny percentage of the install base," said Governor.

"The key issue for Microsoft is to ensure they have more carrots for those customers who don't want to make a full commitment to the brand."

Governor argued that licensing in general is becoming more complex to reflect major changes in the industry such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) and virtualisation.

One reseller said the software giant was not addressing the real issues. "Microsoft is still arsing about with software licensing when there is still a huge amount of pirated software out there."

Jon Collins, senior analyst at Quocirca said: "Microsoft has a bit of a reputation for having its customers over a barrel; one has to think 'what are Microsoft's motivations?' On one hand it wants to ensure it is in the clear with its customers but it also wants to sell more software."