When Is a Reparation Not a Reparation?

Opinion: When is a reparation not a reparation? Apparently, when it's a "customer incentive" program.

Microsoft is doing its best to discredit a recent eWEEK story on the companys plans to make good on expectations by some of its Software Assurance licensees who felt cheated by Microsofts failure to deliver Vista and Office 2007 when promised.

This is sad, given the fact that Microsoft is actually doing the right thing. One might think the company would prefer to take credit for taking responsibility for its own schedule slips and the customer expectations it set.

Instead, Microsoft has chosen to trot out Sunny Jensen Charlebois, the product manager for its worldwide licensing and pricing group, to anyone who will listen, so she can deny that any such thing is planned, and to reinforce the message they want heard, which is that Microsoft always offers programs to drive adoption when it rolls out a new Windows operating system.

Here are more details on exactly what Microsoft told us—based on a transcript of an interview with Allison Watson, the corporate vice president of Microsofts Worldwide Partner Group, which I recorded at the annual Microsoft worldwide partner conference in Boston in July.

When asked how Microsoft planned to address the fact that the delay in releasing products like Vista and Office would significantly impact partners and their customers who have volume licensing agreements and Software Assurance, Watson said: "We have already identified all of the customers who fall into these buckets and associated partners.

"And, starting two months ago, the worldwide field was empowered with offers and incentives and a commitment to partner and customer satisfaction around these issues," she said.

Watson did, however, also try to downplay the effect of product delays on enterprise customers with volume licensing agreements, and the partners who work with them, saying that for them it is less about when a piece of software ships and more about how the software is delivered and supported and affects the entire product family and their platform.

/zimages/5/28571.gifMicrosoft recently started telling its hardware and software partners that its goal is to release Windows Vista and Office 2007 simultaneously in January. Click here to read more.

She also argued that a delay could actually be a good thing for those ISVs and partners that work with Microsoft on the services side, but noted that "Im not trying to minimize the importance of it."

We asked Microsoft for more details. A corporate spokesperson—after a weeks delay—had this to add: "I understand you were looking for more information last week re: any incentive/discount offering Microsoft is offering as a result of changes in the Windows Vista schedule.

"What I can tell you at this point, is that we are working with our OEM partners on the best way to support customer satisfaction during the holiday buying season, but we have not yet finalized details and have no further details to share at this time."

We went back to Watsons PR team and sought further clarification. A different spokesperson sent us this missive: "I reached across several groups to track this down and confirmed with Microsofts OEM team that there is in fact a customer incentive program for those affected by Vista delays, but it is being rolled out in the fall timeframe and is still under development.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about why enterprises will look before they leap to Vista.

"Allison [Watson] has insight into this program because it affects partners, but overall it has not yet been rolled out to the field. They are planning to make an announcement in the fall time frame," she said.

An interesting blog by Gartner analyst Michael Silver notes that while Microsoft is denying plans for a widespread program to "make good," it is talking to customers on an individual basis about this.

"I spoke with a client in this predicament recently. This client has tens of thousands of users and paid Microsoft millions of dollars for Office SA during the past three years. Understandably, this client is not happy.

"Thus far, Microsoft is stonewalling the customers request to make good before discussing renewal … [Microsoft] says it is discussing the situation on a one-to-one basis, but thus far, our reports indicate that Microsoft will not discuss the issue unless it is in the context of a new renewal. Understandably, companies want satisfaction before they even think about renewing," Silver said in the blog.

Microsoft may not want to call the pending programs/benefits "reparations"—especially given the fact (as noted by those scallywags at ValleyWag,)—that the connotations of reparations could lead one to equate Microsoft with Nazis.

But it sure sounds like Microsoft is planning to institute some kind of program to address the concerns of customers who feel misled, in terms of Vista and Office expectations.

Why is Microsoft denying that it is doing something positive for customers?

Why not just spin something that started out as a disadvantage as proof that the company does take partner and customer concerns seriously, and that it is willing to act on them to ensure they are treated fairly?

I know what my answer to that question is. Whats your take?

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