Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced enhancements to its Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance plan, implemented last year.
The enhancements, which eWEEK first reported were under consideration last November, will be provided to existing Software Assurance customers and all those who sign up going forward. They will include free training, support and the right to use Microsoft Office on customers home computers.
Rebecca LaBrunerie, Microsofts product manager for worldwide licensing and pricing, told eWEEK that the enhancements will be made available to all Software Assurance customers Sept. 1.
“As you know, we learned a big lesson from Licensing 6.0 about effectively communicating with our customers and making sure everyone was well-informed. We will be giving our channel partners very extensive training over the next few months and also training our own sales force so that when we make the enhancements available on Sept. 1, customers will find a very well-informed sales force,” she said.
Microsoft executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer, have admitted that the changes contained in Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance were poorly conveyed to customers by the companys own sales and support teams.
That resulted in much customer anger, especially among those who felt they were being strong-armed into signing up for the scheme without adequate time to evaluate the price and other implications for their businesses.
While Microsoft initially introduced its Software Assurance program in May 2001, it delayed its implementation for more than a year to give customers a chance to prepare for the new model, which essentially involves having customers pay an annual fee for future software upgrades.
The latest Microsoft licensing moves, LaBrunerie said, follow the Redmond, Wash., companys interactions with some 2,500 customers over the past 10 months to hear their concerns.
The enhancements were an effort by Microsoft to reconnect with those customers and show them that it has responded to their concerns, she said.
Free training is one of the areas Microsoft is adding to its Software Assurance offering, she said, noting that there are several offerings in this regard. Customers will get the e-learning online training module of Microsofts different products as well as vouchers that will allow them to get free classroom training from Microsofts Certified Technical Education Centers to be trained for certification in running Microsoft products.
“Depending on how many licenses a customer buys and under which program, the benefits scale. So, the largest customer under an Enterprise Agreement could get up to 150 single-day training vouchers for the life of their contract, to be used by as they like,” LaBrunerie said. “A smaller customer might get three or four. In general, the more Software Assurance you buy from us, the more benefits we will provide you. The customers we have spoken to really feel this benefit adds value, as the first thing they cut in a tight economy is training.”
Customers also asked for additional technical support for Microsofts server products. While this is broken down according to whether customers have the standard or enterprise version of the software and depends on the licensing program under which the software was bought, it essentially ranges from free Web-based technical support during business hours to unlimited free phone support anytime.
“All Software Assurance customers will also get free licenses for our TechNet product, which costs about $1,000 a user on average today, either online or under our CD subscription program,” LaBrunerie said.
In addition, customers told Microsoft that they needed better manageability, so the company is rolling out new technology exclusively for Software Assurance customers, including the Corporate Error Reporting 2.0 software tool. This will send error reports generated on the network or desktop to the IT manager, rather than directly to Microsoft, as is now the case.
The Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) tool, which is available to Microsofts largest enterprise customers, will now be available to all Software Assurance customers.
The tool was originally created to help OEMs deploy like images across multiple desktops, and is essentially a light version of a reimaging tool, she said.
Microsoft has also decided to give customers running Office under Software Assurance home-use rights for the software as well. Until now, users who installed the software at the office or on a laptop could not install it at home as well under the same license.
Microsoft will now give those customers home-use rights for Office in the ratio of one home use right for every one Office Software Assurance license held. In order not to make this complicated for customers, who had told Microsoft they did not want any added burden, Microsoft is avoiding the need to involve the IT manager for this.
“If the employee is eligible, they will go out to a Web site and submit their name, which will get validated. They will then have to submit a credit card number to pay a cost of goods charge of about $25 to cover shipping and handling, and we will send them a complete retail version of Office to their home, so they bypass the IT administrator at work,” she said.
The home-use rights will also apply to Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio customers, LaBrunerie said, adding that Microsoft is giving those home users discounts of more than 30 percent on retail prices if they want to buy up to three additional desktop Microsoft software products.
“With this package of benefits we are hoping to deliver even greater value to our Software Assurance customers and to reconnect with them. While we are also always looking at ways we can further help our customers, Licensing 6.0 was the way we wanted to license our new business model, and todays announcement is just a reinforcement of that,” she said.
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