The software giant announced late last month that its Software Assurance program would now enable home use of corporate software, source code access and software discounting for licensees' employees, training features and extra technical support. The changes will take effect 1 September.
David Stevens, managing director at reseller Brennan IT, said the changes were positive for users. Allowing business licensees to let staff use Microsoft Office at home and providing access to TechNet online or CD-based troubleshooting would be particularly well received, he said.
However, Stevens said the additional support and training may not prove as popular. 'My instinct says they will not be hugely interested in the support aspect. It is difficult to expect a helpdesk operator with little experience to be much assistance to a user if they have anything more than the most fundamental issues [to deal with],' Stevens said.
Brad Colledge, manager of licensing solutions at listed system integrator Data #3, agreed the Software Assurance upgrades would improve user acceptance overall. 'All sorts of things are in there which customers have requested for some time,' he said. 'There's nothing glaringly obvious that's been left out.'
Home use of Office had been available until 1997 but was cancelled in favour of separate home user licences. 'Since then, customers have become a bit more aware of managing their licensing, so I guess Microsoft is now more comfortable about releasing these benefits back again,' Colledge said.
Colledge said TechNet was also previously available to customers who paid extra. 'People were buying [TechNet] anyway, so I think that'll get a lot of use,' Colledge said.
Although he believed support and training would still be valuable to users, he was not as sanguine about the likely take-up of some of the additional support, including online training, that could prove more useful for larger corporations.
Moreover, users still tended to see e-learning as a bit of a novelty and put it to one side. 'Some customers can forget that these benefits are actually available to them. Microsoft's resellers will have to communicate to people that these things are available,' Colledge said.
He said the changes would also bring Software Assurance more in line with Microsoft's .NET strategy and the general direction of licensing over the last few years. 'When Microsoft released the .NET strategy, Microsoft was talking about doing incremental upgrades rather than one-time upgrades,' Colledge said. 'The Software Assurance changes are more along those lines, giving users upgrade value continuously.'
Microsoft has been working hard this year on a PR campaign aimed at communicating its responsiveness to customer needs.
Thomas Kablau, licensing marketing manager at Microsoft Australia, said the 'enhancements' to Software Assurance were in response to 'a lot of' customer feedback.
Microsoft would continue consulting customers on further possible Software Assurance enhancements through the launch period until 1 September when the changes would be finalised.
'We've already met our key sales staff and partners and will continue training up to the actual launch and beyond,' he said.
All new and old Software Assurance customers will get access to the additional features. Kablau said customers should be able to save money using Software Assurance, 'although it will depend on their individual circumstances. [For example] if they want more than one set of media – more CDs, say – they will have to pay extra,' he said.
He said it would be implemented differently around the world depending on customer needs. For example, Australian tax differences would have to be accounted for as would companies using an Asian language.
'We do have a lot of Asia-Pacific clients based in Australia which might want Office in Japanese, and we have to make sure they can do that,' he said. 'We have to find out what customers need so that by the time the product is launched it will do what they want.'
Microsoft expects its updated Software Assurance program to be completed by December. 'We are pretty much on target to have most of the offering launched in September but may not see everything [done by then],' Kablau said.