Microsoft offers free tool for licensing help

Microsoft on Monday again updated its volume-licensing program with the addition of a tool that helps users sort through their options for acquiring Microsoft software.

The Microsoft Product Licensing Advisor helps users select products and find the best pricing by matching their needs with specific Microsoft's volume licensing programs: Open License Business, Open License Volume, Open Value, Select License and Enterprise Agreement.

The tool, which is not available for academic or government volume licensing programs, allows users to compare the programs based on the user's specific needs. The tool will calculate estimated retail pricing and provide a printed report including the exact configuration of the product, including language, version and edition.

"This will lend a lot more clarity and reduce the mistakes and the ambiguity as to what is the exact licensing part number for what I want," says Steve Acterman, director of corporate IT management for VOLT, a provider of staffing and telecommunication services. Acterman is a member of the Microsoft Licensing Advisory council and made recommendations for the creation of this tool more than a year ago.

"We are involved in using a boatload of different Microsoft products and with the proliferation of SKUs related to Software Assurance and whether the product is the standard, enterprise or pro edition there has basically become almost an unmanageable number of parts to order. We usually have in our heads what we want but trying to communicate that to your distributor or VAR can be difficult."

Microsoft has been trying to simplify its licensing since it introduced Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance program in 2001, an unveiling that triggered an outcry from users over perceived price increases. Microsoft has been trying to smooth things over ever since and has been adding incentives such as home use rights, training vouchers, consolidating product categories and simplifying its Open Value program.

Microsoft also has simplified licensing around multi-core processors and virtualization software.

Product Licensing Advisor is being released in three phases. Monday's release, which is available here, includes comparison and guidance tools, a License Trainer wizard that helps illustrate why a certain option may be best for a specific users. The tool also is limited to basic Microsoft products. It is available only in English and in the United States. Users also can access the tool through Microsoft's U.S.-based call centers.

In January, the tool will incorporate use rights and Software Assurance benefit information, an interface into detailed product information from specific Microsoft product groups and information on add-ins and client access licenses. Users also will have access to the tool through Microsoft's TechNet Web site.

The third and final phase comes in the spring of 2006 with the addition of quotes for an entire business solution such as a platform for business intelligence, provide a best-product scenario and offer live one-on-one chat sessions. The site also will expand to 20 languages.

"We think this is a great first step for customers and then they can go and get connected with a [reseller]," says Sunny Charlebois, product manager in Microsoft's worldwide licensing and product group.

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