Businesses wanting to deploy standard configurations across a number of machines frequently take out one of Microsoft's volume licensing programs, set up their own standard distribution then use it to hose whatever OS the PCs they bought came with. Frequently they are under the impression that this involves them paying for two Microsoft operating systems, and sometimes they'll buy (if they can) machines with no OS instead, in order to avoid wasting money in this way.
However, it appears that the people who thought they'd been buying two licences per machine are largely mistaken, and the ones who thought they'd been saving money have actually been stealing Microsoft's. Just you wait for the audit, all you dirty software pirates running the IT departments of major corporations.
The key factor we should all surely have been aware of, but which has escaped quite a number of us until now, is that: "Full operating system licenses are not available through any Microsoft Volume Licensing Program, Fact." So people who thought they were buying full operating systems via Microsoft volume licensing programs have actually been buying upgrades, and as Microsoft points out in a mailing unearthed by Linux and Main, "Some customers believe they can acquire full operating system licenses through their Microsoft Volume Licensing Program Myth."
The text of the mailing, which appears to be yet another effort to exterminate the hated "Naked PC," can be found here, and is shrill even by the standard of the MS anti-piracy enforcers (who seem to be responsible for it). The volume licensing programs through which full licences are not available include Microsoft Open, Select, Enterprise, Campus, and School Agreements, it footnotes, but keep up, we've just told you they're not available through any such program.
"OEM licenses for Microsoft operating system software are not transferable from one machine to another, even if the PC on which it was originally installed is no longer in use. The OEM license is tied to the original PC on which it was installed." Except, ahem, in Germany, we believe.
For the hard of thinking, the document lists the three, and only three, cases where you can buy full OS product. You can get an OEM licence via a PC OEM or system builder (with non-peripheral equipment only, it stresses), or you can buy it at retail. So volume discounts are only available for upgrades, and you're really making problems for yourself and costing yourself money if you persist in buying machines that don't have a Microsoft OS onboard.
Here's why non-Naked PCs are good for you, and you should eat them all up:
"Preinstalled OEM software licenses can cost less!" Yes well they would, if Microsoft is going to insist on you buying retail.
"Save time - No installation and troubleshooting is required to start using your software immediately." Stop fiddling with your machines - what are you, some kind of software pirate?
"If there's a problem, the system builder fixes it. Your Microsoft System Builder is required to service PCs on which they've preinstalled Microsoft OEM licensed software. Why miss out on this vital technical support?" Lucky system builders dumped on again then...
The widespread belief that volume licensing agreements do give you full operating systems can at least to some extent be put down to Microsoft not exactly front-ending references to upgrades in the text, and to the way it has stressed the amount you could save by going for them in the past, without obviously pointing out that it's talking about upgrades, or clearly differentiating the situation as regards applications from OS product. It's been trying to discourage small businesses from buying software at retail, and the "volume" schemes actually start at five PCs.
You can boggle some more about the wondrous world of Microsoft licensing starting here, and you can find a hefty Word format product list here. This does indeed seem to specify upgrade for OS products and also, we note, consistently singles out the Russians for special attention. Why can't these poor people use volume license keys for Microsoft products? Not being experimented on, are they? ®