Ottawa firm targets Microsoft license change

With less than a month remaining before the deadline to switch to Microsoft Corp.’s new bulk software licensing plan, a provider of IT asset management services has made available a service designed to help organizations assess their current software inventory.

Called LicenseTracker, the service is available until the end of the month from Ottawa-based AssetMetrix Inc, and can be used to audit all versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office being used by an organization, the company said.

Microsoft announced last year that it would alter its bulk licensing plans, which customers sign up for to purchase and upgrade products at discounted prices. Replacing some older options that allowed customers to purchase upgrades at a discount whenever they pleased is a plan called Licensing 6.0. Under that system, customers pay an up-front fee for their software and an additional, annual fee that entitles them to software upgrades for the life of their contract.

If corporate customers don’t switch to the new plan before July 31, they will be required to pay the full price of the new software when they do decide to upgrade. Missing the deadline could cost some companies 45 per cent more for their licenses at their next upgrade cycle, according to a study from research company Gartner Inc.

Having a comprehensive list of all of the Microsoft software being used by an organization should help companies as they negotiate new licensing deals with Microsoft, according to Paul Bodnoff, president and chief executive officer of AssetMetrix.

A variety of tools are available for tracking and auditing hardware and software installed in an organization. The Business Software Alliance, a Washington, D.C., industry trade group that is a major force in stamping out the use of illegal software, offers a free auditing tool on its Web site called Gasp. The tool was developed by Attest Systems Inc., which also sells a more comprehensive version of the product.

AssetMetrix said it differs from some of its competitors because it offers a hosted service, rather than a product customers buy and use themselves. LicenseTracker is essentially a slimmed down version of the company’s main hosted service, and is designed to track only Microsoft products rather than software from multiple vendors.

To use LicenseTracker, a network administrator begins by logging in to AssetMetrix’s hosted service. The administrator will then receive a “smart” e-mail which he or she forwards to each user on the network. Embedded in the e-mail is a 200K byte software agent which, when opened, will search 250 areas in the users’ PCs and identify the hardware and software installed.

The service gathers information collected by those agents and compiles it into results about the software in the network, such as the number of licensed copies installed, what versions are installed, and the number of users using each product.

Besides using e-mail, the audit service can be set up to perform the audit automatically when a user logs into a corporate network, Bodnoff said. For computers that don’t have access to e-mail the audit agent can be downloaded from a disk.

LicenseTracker is available for US$2 per seat, the company said, and is available only before July 31. AssetMetrix’s regular service is available by subscription, and costs $3 to $15 per seat depending on the length of the contract.