Microsoft points the way to licence support

Microsoft is suggesting customers turn to resellers and consultants to help manage their software licences, which are still causing users big headaches

Microsoft is trying to improve relationships with its licensed customers by helping them better manage their licences using channel partners, who can provide expertise in asset management. For larger customers, Microsoft recommends teaming up with consulting giants such as KPMG.

Microsoft UK's licence compliance manager, Alex Hilton, told ZDNet UK that the software giant has in the past been seen as "wading in because it wanted the revenue", whereas now it wants to present its customers with a more sensitive attitude.

"We want to make sure that what customers use is managed, paid for and of value to them. That way they have a sensible handle on what they are using and how they are deploying it," Hilton said.

Microsoft admits that in the past it has annoyed lots of its customers by taking a hard-nosed approach to software licensing, but the company is now promising to be more considerate.

Microsoft simplified its licensing programme in 2002 by introducing the Software Assurance programme. This effectively allows companies to rent their software without having to worry about paying for updates or new versions, but although the change may have helped ease the licence management problems, many companies refused to sign up, and analysts were highly critical. Hilton admits the Microsoft needs to do more as many customers still feel the company has in the past taken a rather hostile approach to licence negotiations. "We upset a great deal of customers, which is not what we wanted to do. Now, we are going to take a much harder approach towards the channel and a much more sensitive and positive approach towards customers."

Customers might not need help managing their licences if the process wasn't so legendarily complex, but the company argues that it can't simplify its approach to licensing without losing flexibility. Hilton said that if there was only one simple licence, customers would not have any chance to customise their purchases.

"We could have something that is so simple and so clear that nobody would have any complaints about our licensing programmes. But that will make our licensing programmes completely and utterly inflexible. There are lots of offerings in many colours and many shades, and that is much closer to what the customer needs," Hilton said.

Philip Carnelley, software research director at Ovum, believes that Microsoft is taking a more gentle approach to the licensing issue because it is worried that companies on its Software Assurance programme will not continue with their agreements; although it may have simplified their licence management, many have not used the upgrades they have paid for, and so are now wasting money.

"Microsoft is worried that people will say they didn't even update, so why should they sign up for another two years? Quite frankly, there isn't going to be another release worth having over the next two years. Longhorn is not expected till 2006 or even 2007, so why should they sign up for another two years when there won't be another upgrade they want or need?" said Carnelley.

"This is the backdrop to why they may think they need to be a little more cuddly and friendly," Carnelley said.