You’ll have to buy our Assurance if you want Vista, says Microsoft

Businesses that want to use the heavyweight version of Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Vista operating system will have to sign up to the company’s controversial Software Assurance (SA) licensing programme.

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By  Chris Whyatt Published  September 25, 2005

Businesses that want to use the heavyweight version of Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Vista operating system will have to sign up to the company’s controversial Software Assurance (SA) licensing programme. Introduced in 2001, the company’s SA licensing programme encourages customers to pay an annual fee to access upgra- des and other support services — around 25% of the license — rather than buying it outright. This month, Microsoft ann- ounced a range of enhancem- ents to SA, including extended training and services support. However, it is the decision to make Windows Vista Enterpr- ise available “exclusively as a benefit” in the SA programme which has attracted attention. In the release which details the changes to the SA prog- ramme, Microsoft lists some of the benefits of Vista Enterprise, including full volume encryption, which helps enhance the protection of sensitive data. The move could prove to be a problem for Microsoft, if it wa-nts businesses to adopt the Enterprise edition of the OS. Businesses and analysts have criticised SA as complicated and possibly more expensive than standard software licensing, and the fear is that many firms will be put off using Enterprise as a result. “Software Assurance has outlived its usefulness,” said Paul DeGroot, of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specialises in tracking Microsoft. “The farther we get into this [new upgrade cycle], the less attractive SA has begun to look,” he added. As well as criticism, poor performance has hampered its reputation. Gartner and Jupiter Research analysts have questioned SA’s economics and surveys have counted only a fraction of Microsoft customers signing up. The scheduled availability of the new raft of software benefits is March 2006, with the enterprise version of Microsoft Vista likely at the end of next year. Customers who want that connection are unlikely to be comforted by Microsoft’s stance. “Vista Enterprise will be available exclusively to Software Assurance customers,” said Mike Sievert, vice president of Microsoft Windows group. One of its unique features will include a single disk image that includes languages and both 32- and 64- bit versions, which Sievert said would simplify deployment and support for large firms with far-flung systems. DeGroot is unimpressed. “I generally have a problem with Microsoft limiting software to those who buy SA,” he said. “And this is strange. Microsoft says that unless you pay a premium you can use this [single disk image] to deploy our product? That’s just a way to irritate customers,” he added. Other upgrades to its Software Assurance programme add- ress planning, deployment, usage, maintenance, and transition. Separately, rumours have been flying that Microsoft is in talks with Time Warner over how to work more closely together. According to press reports, the two companies have been discussing Time Warner’s AOL replacing its current se-arch engine Google with Microsoft’s own product. The two companies are apparently looking at ways to work together in developing their online advertising, instant messaging and search engine businesses. There has also been speculation that Microsoft could be considering buying part of AOL and merging it with its own internet business. In March, Microsoft, Time Warner and Thomson announced completion of their three-way acquisition of Content Guard, which invents technologies for digital rights management.

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