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Microsoft's murder most foul: TechNet is dead

Do we 'low margin' dregs matter to you anymore, Redmond? Thought not

Sysadmin blog The end of TechNet Subscriptions is upon us. Let's take a moment to digest this, shall we?

TechNet subscriptions were a cheap way to get access to virtually the entire Microsoft library of software for the purposes of building and maintaining a testlab environment.

The cost ranged from $200 to $600 a year, and when combined with the free eval versions gave you everything you could ever want to build a Microsoft test environment. TechNet subscriptions were the gateway drug to the Microsoft ecosystem, a need Microsoft now feels will be met by MSDN subscriptions (starting at $700 and going up to $13,400), Microsoft Virtual Academy and the Technet forums.

Why TechNet mattered

I don't doubt for a second that the advent of virtualisation saw a shift from TechNet usage to free evaluation copies of software. I think my own use case for TechNet is fairly typical and even I see this shift.

I use TechNet to build the "structure" of my testlab environment: a domain controller, a file server, an SQL server, and so forth. These are the types VMs that I will need for years at a time to maintain my testlab environment. I supplement these with free/eval VMs for application servers and so forth because these VMs won't be around for very long. They need to be spun up to test a restore from backup or to see if a patch will work.

After they've served their purpose there's no reason to keep them around and it isn't worth my time to fight Microsoft's maddening DRM by applying a licence at VM creation and then attempting to recover it at VM destruction. As an SME admin, none of my clients are large enough to be using volume licenses (or for that matter to afford the utterly worthless Software Assurance cost premium) and thus don't have KMS servers to make this headache smaller.

So I agree with Microsoft: the bulk of my usage – and the usage of every single sysadmin venting their outraged spleen into the two dozen or so IRC channels I hang out on – is indeed free eval copies. Yet our testlabs couldn't function without those long-term copies provided by TechNet. This isn't an either/or scenario: both options simply must exist.

You're all Freetards

According to Microsoft's own FAQ: "The software provided with TechNet Subscriptions is designed for hands-on IT Professionals to evaluate Microsoft software and plan deployments. The software provided with MSDN Subscriptions is available for evaluation, development, and testing purposes."

Microsoft's Monday e-mail said this: "As IT trends and business dynamics have evolved, so has Microsoft's set of offerings for IT professionals who are looking to learn, evaluate and deploy Microsoft technologies and services. In recent years, we have seen a usage shift from paid to free evaluation experiences and resources. As a result, Microsoft has decided to retire the TechNet Subscriptions service and will discontinue sales on August 31, 2013."

I read the both of these combined to say that those of us who have been using TechNet to build a stable testlab environment for the purposes of testing and new software versions or MS patches have been freeloading on Microsoft's goodwill. We should really have been paying for MSDN all along; testing a new version shouldn't require infrastructure to stick around for more than the 30-180 days provided by free evaluation copies.

Anything that might require a stable envrinoment isn't "evaluating software" or "planning deployments". It is "evaluation, development or testing" and thus really should be something we pay extra for.

Of course, how this jibes with the inclusion of TechNet subscriptions into Action Pack subscriptions is a mystery. It was made fairly explicit to me as a Microsoft Partner that the TechNet subscription was to build my testlab and the Action Pack licences were to give me production usage rights; the combined package was to be enough for a small business to get off the ground in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Take that, sysadmins!

The cancellation of TechNet subscriptions isn't merely a Windows 8.1-style slap in the face or an incomprehensible XBone-class failure to read the market. This is a deliberate, planned, carefully considered shot to the vital bits from on high.

The message is crystal clear: if you want to test Microsoft software on anything excepting disposable short-term "free evals", then you will do it in the cloud and you'll pay for the privilege. Can't afford to subscribe to the cloud for a test lab? MSDN a little too pricy, or the restriction to development use too severe? Too bad.

You and I – we dregs of the IT industry – are not Microsoft's target market. Microsoft has moved beyond the SME, the hobbyist, and the power user. Where once we were the foundations of the empire – the hearts and hands upon which Microsoft built and projected its global mindshare – we have become too "low margin" to maintain as customers.

Murdering TechNet is only the latest in a series of moves by Microsoft aimed at cutting the deadweight from its customer base. From shenanigans such as trying to neuter Office licences and push us all to subscriptions, to the perpetual guilty-unless-proven-innocent ratcheting shut of MSDN and TechNet subscriptions (to fight "piracy"), all have made Microsoft's ambitions clear.

Why you and I aren't really relevant at all

Microsoft can't win a fight to defend a monopoly position forever. All you need to do is look to Apple's halving of market share in the face of Android to understand that. It is simply bad business for Microsoft to continue to expend vast resources on placating the kinds of people for whom things like TechNet make a difference.

Microsoft is in no real hurry to bleed away market share – I'm sure their PR droids will be along soon to tell the world that Microsoft does indeed care about the fuzzy wuzzies and 'Why are you saying such mean things!' – but the reality is that if it is to survive it needs to set a bold vision and convince those with deep pockets that it is the way forward. That vision is the cloud, subscriptions, and driving margins up, not down.

The rest of us can follow – or not – as we choose. Microsoft ultimately doesn't care. Microsoft is in the process of shifting into an Oracle-like high-margin player. It wants fewer customers with bigger pockets and it isn't afraid of "drop off" suffered by the disenfranchised or the poor.

Make no mistake: this isn't an arrogance born out of a belief that it retains a monopoly on the desktop, the Office productivity suite, or the server market. It is a wholesale shift in approach in recognition of its loss of monopoly.

You don't matter to Microsoft and neither do I. We've known all known this for ages, but Microsoft has finally decided that they aren't going to even bother to fake it anymore. Now is the time for those of us who don't live "at scale" – and with budgets to match – to start looking farther afield, before we move from "customer" to "hostage". ®

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