Microsoft has acknowledged that even the most law-abiding users can find it difficult to keep their software compliant with licensing rules, and introduced a new software asset management (SAM) programme which it says will help them.
Called the "Self Start SAM", the programme is based around the ISO standard for software asset management which was introduced last year with considerable input from companies in the UK.
According to Microsoft, the aim of the programme is to help firms formalise their SAM processes and control their assets. Companies and organisations can use Microsoft tools to carry out their own software audits and get help from Microsoft partners.
The programme is currently being piloted with Microsoft SAM Partners and consultants before being rolled out to all customers in January 2007. Most of the services provided by the programme will be free.
According to Ram Dhaliwal, Microsoft UK Licensing Programme Manager: "SAM will remain an enigma for customers as long as there is no consistent approach to the process."
The new programme will allow partners and customers to work together to get to a final accounting of an organisation's Microsoft software assets over a period of three months.
Under the programme, customers will go through four processes:
- First, they will undertake an anonymous "Live Meeting" introduction to the ISO Standard and SAM, which will be conducted by Investors in Software.
- Next, they will register as part of the "Self Start" SAM Programme
- They will participate in a series of webcast briefings covering licensing, counterfeiting, the Microsoft Licensing Statement (MLS) explanations and the SAM three-month 'three-step process'.
- Finally, after completing the programme, customers will receive recognition from Microsoft in the form of a letter, confirming the customer has gone through the steps of implementing a SAM process across their business.
"We are not sure what the recognition will be because it can't be a certificate saying they are compliant," Dhaliwal told ZDNet UK. "They could install 1,000 copies the next day."
Dhaliwal stressed that stolen and unlicensed software continues to be one of Microsoft's biggest worries and, he says, should worry customers too. "Our most recent audits showed that 30 to 40 percent of software that customers believed was legal was actually counterfeit."
But Dhaliwal does not believe companies will be put off by the prospect of finding that a third of their software is illegal and will have to be replaced.
"Most companies just want to know what their position is," he said. "When they go through an audit, lots of companies find they are overpaying for their software."
While this SAM only covers Microsoft products, other SAMs can be used to assess software from other suppliers.
David Roberts, chief executive of The Infrastructure Forum, which represents IT managers in large companies, backed the programme.
"Corporate users are united in wanting to tackle the issue of counterfeit software head on," Roberts said. "Any programme that encourages customers to validate their software is a step in the right direction. Suppliers and customers address this issue as a collective enemy, so any approach that assists in achieving this aim must be welcomed."