Heres a spring SAT question for the IT executive: When it comes to Windows Vista upgrades, is Microsoft more like the Internal Revenue Service or an Atlantic City casino?
Regardless of whether you work for a large, midsize or small business, the answer is "yes." In case you misplaced your SKU crib sheet, the business-focused Windows Vista SKUs are: Business and Enterprise as well as a SOHO (small office/home office) variant called Windows Vista Ultimate, which combines the media content Home Edition capabilities with the Enterprise Edition.
The catch is that the only way to get most of the useful features of the Enterprise SKU—the BitLocker drive encryption; Virtual PC Express virtual-machine support; SUA (Subsystem for Unix-based Applications), which will let Unix applications run on Vista; and access to all worldwide languages supported by Vista with a single deployment image—will be to sign up for either an Enterprise Agreement or Software Assurance volume licensing deal.
Given the security problems that have plagued Windows and the need of all business users for greater security, the single must-have Vista Enterprise feature is surely BitLocker encryption. To hold such an essential feature out as a carrot to induce users to enroll in its high-end licensing programs is the very kind of behavior that has driven many customers to seek open-source alternatives rather than face a lifetime of being wedded to Microsoft products and licensing terms.
Indeed, for many enterprises, dealing with Microsofts licensing practices is like playing against the house at a casino. Customers can never be quite sure if their agreements will encompass a promised upgrade like Vista and its much-needed features or if they will be out of luck, as some early volume deal customers have been, in waiting for Longhorn.
Vista upgrades may feel like Tax Day to IT managers of some SMBs (small and midsize businesses). Just as when figuring the AMT (alternative minimum tax) alongside the usual tax charts, they will need to run the ROI numbers carefully.
Will it be best to pay for the Enterprise Agreement or Software Assurance or, instead, to calculate the cost per machine of varying individual licenses? The latter course will mean taking into consideration which applications the machine will be used for, its hardware characteristics and the needs of each user.
Instead of constructing its licensing agreements to seemingly maximize both user uncertainty and the companys own profits, Microsoft should give customers straightforward, affordable choices. Standardized encryption is essential for all business users, and it should be available to all of them, whether or not they sign up for a volume deal.
Whats in it for Microsoft? The kind of customer good will that no marketing campaign can possibly generate. We believe that Microsoft should do the right thing for the legions of users, both large and small, that have been loyal to the company over the years. Microsoft should include the BitLocker feature in all its business SKUs.
eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson, David Morgenstern, Scot Petersen and Matthew Rothenberg.