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Microsoft hopes freebie will dispel license and price confusion

Margie Semilof

Microsoft has been trying hard to make its product licensing and pricing information crystal clear to Windows administrators.

This past year, the company spent much energy cleaning up existing documentation and improving information available online. Today, officials are releasing a free, Web-based tool that lets administrators compare products and evaluate pricing and licensing scenarios.

The Product Licensing Advisor lets IT managers plug in data about specific enterprise configurations to get a gist of what a certain scenario might cost. The preview gives an IT professional up-front information before a negotiation with Microsoft or a reseller.

"It's always tedious trying to figure out Microsoft's licensing," said Bruce Hass, IT director at K2 Corp., in Vashon, Wash. "We work with a reseller, but I always wonder if our partner is making the right choice for us. It's definitely something we could use."

The tool was first developed for mid-market customers, who typically have the least amount of expertise on staff when it comes to pricing and licensing nuances. But Microsoft executives now expect that business customers of all sizes will take advantage of its features.

The Advisor will evolve quickly; in fact, expect three versions to appear within the next six months. The first version has a license trainer wizard. IT administrators can receive basic product information along with price estimates. This version is useful for those who

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already have an idea about what products they might like to buy, but most of the information available initially will be for the desktop.

It can help purchasers make decisions regarding how to pay, or whether or not a customer might want to buy Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) maintenance program, said Brent Callinicos, corporate vice president of worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft. An IT pro can sign on to the site, answer a few questions and then see scenarios if the user were to pay up front, if payments are spread out, if software is bought per user, per device or some other purchasing possibility. Prices are estimates and customers have to double check everything with their reseller or with Microsoft, Callinicos said.

If the customer runs into a problem, they can call a toll-free number to get their license questions answered, he said.

These customers won't have access to data for all 70-plus Microsoft products sold via volume licensing until a January version of the utility is ready. At that point, customers will gain access to more information about product use rights and SA and more details about server products.

Later in the spring, Microsoft will add chat, as well as the ability to get quotes for an entire business scenario. For example, if a customer is trying to solve a business problem, or wants to look into costs surrounding virtualization, the tool can identify the correct Microsoft products and licensing choices, Callinicos said.

A tool such as the Product Licensing Advisor is more necessary than most people realize. In any business, particularly one like Microsoft, which sells hundreds of products, it's hard to keep current on everything, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm.

At one time, Microsoft had an online catalog with price listings, but the information was often inconsistent, and prices were often incorrect. "It might tell you that volume pricing was unavailable, when you knew that wasn't true," DeGroot said.

To solve the problem, Microsoft removed pricing from the online catalog, but then it just became harder to find pricing information, or it would just list retail prices.

Microsoft has big plans for the Product Licensing Advisor in the next two years, which officials say will be even more useful. The company will offer both public and private versions of the tool. The public version will provide general product information; the private version, will hold specific details about the Microsoft products a customer is using, and it will be accessible in a secure session.

"We will already know who you are as a company, what you have with us and know if you have an Enterprise Agreement or know if you are a charity," Callinicos said. "We can get more granular in terms of the answers we give."

In July, Microsoft whittled down its once hefty Product Use Rights guide from 100 pages to half that size and eliminated the legalese language. At this time, Microsoft also categorized its 70-plus products into nine groups to help simplify product organization.


This article originally appeared on SearchWin2000.com, a sister site of SearchSMB.com.

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