Licence pricing tool comes north

Microsoft Corp.’s tool for helping customers make sense of its complicated product licensing regime will be available in Canada this month, but one analyst cautions it’s only one tool to help companies take greater ownership of their software licensing program.

Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Product Licensing Advisor in the U.S. in November as a way of walking customers through the process of choosing product licences. The company sells its volume licences mainly through partners, so once customers get an idea of what they will need by using the tool, they can contact a Microsoft partner to help them make final decisions.

With the tool coming to Canada and Europe by the end of March, pricing information will be available in the local currency and new functionalities are also being added. Sunny Jensen Charlebois, Microsoft’s senior product manager of worldwide licensing and pricing, said Microsoft wanted to test the tool and get more feedback before it made its international debut.

The tool provides a comparison of Microsoft’s volume licensing programs, walking a customer through the process of choosing licences for products and giving them a snapshot of the products and licences they may need.

Previously, volume-pricing information was only available through partners. Customers will still work with partners, but Charlebois said the tool will give them a starting-point for that conversation.

Charlebois said the MPLA is one of several steps Microsoft has taken to simplify licensing.

“The more choices you add, the more complexity, so it is a very fine balance,” said Charlebois.

Microsoft has also streamlined its product licensing model, shortened its licensing agreements and simplified the language used.

“There was so much legalese it was difficult for customers to understand the language,” said Charlebois.

Naumi Haque, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said the MPLA will be a useful tool, but he cautioned it’s only a tool and it’s no substitute for companies doing their research and fully understanding the commitments involved with different licensing programs.

“Companies going in without properly understanding the commitments involved with each of the programs might find they’ve selected a program that really wasn’t what they were expecting,” said Haque. “I don’t think you can make a decision about licensing by answering just six questions in an online form, I think it’s a bit more complex than that.”

While he sees it as more of a pricing tool than a licensing advisor, Haque said Microsoft releasing volume-pricing information is a significant step, noting in the past it had kept that information close to its chest. He said being armed with that information before meeting with the reseller is empowering for the consumer.

“In the past it felt like Microsoft was taking more of the reseller’s side, and with this tool it has kind of shifted power to the consumer,” said Haque. “There definitely was a backlash against Microsoft for the complexity (of its licensing regime) and…lack of pricing information was a part of that.”

However the bottom line, said Haque, is companies need to take ownership of their licensing decisions by exploring the different options themselves, and deciding what’s best for their business.

“Companies have to educate themselves about the options available instead of relying on a tool or just going to a reseller as a crutch,” said Haque. “They’re not going to understand the specific needs of your business.”

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— with files from IDG News Service

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