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Microsoft turns the power of fine print onto enterprise licensing

Turning the screw doesn’t begin to describe it

New wording in Microsoft’s enterprise licensing agreements could see customers forced to pay more to Redmond while simultaneously jumping through new licensing hoops.

Microsoft has re-worked the fine print of the Enterprise Agreement (EA) in a way that confers greater power on its licensing agents to interpret the rules.

It has also placed a greater onus on customers with massive numbers of PCs, servers and devices running Microsoft software and services.

The changes apply to Microsoft’s True Up under EA and appeared following annual changes to EA in November that customers are only now starting to bump into.

Under the terms of the earlier EA, Microsoft had said customers had to simply list the products they’d used or not used since their last True Up - a 12-month agreement. Since November, however, Microsoft wants to be notified of “any” changes to their use, according to the new EA wording.

Furthermore, Microsoft has struck from the fine print of the old EA a list of specific changes that served as a helpful standard for the basis of negotiations. This standard included the addition of qualified users and devices to your pool of Microsoft licenses and reductions in numbers of licenses used.

Now, by specifying “any” the onus is on customers to keep and present finely detailed records of all licenses used over the 12-month life of a contact.

Yet the headaches don’t stop there.

From now on, Microsoft shops must also determine the “maximum number” of additional product licenses that were used since the start of their True Up.

It’s a tightening of the wording in the older EA, which had been more vague and said you simply had to determine the “additional products used” and order any license difference.

Microsoft licensing expert Paul DeGroot of Pica Communications called the wording a “radical modification” of True Up and a “substantive change” to the EA.

His concern is that Microsoft’s requirement to be notified of “any” changes is vague and open to interpretation. Could it mean the retirement of an old PC and its replacement, the replacement of a member of staff, or adding an iPad to the array of devices of somebody who has a Windows User License? Who knows?

The phrase is vague and will vary depending on whether you are Microsoft, a reseller, or the customer.

Furthermore, the removal of those examples from the wording of True Up eliminates a useful standard for counting license changes, again leaving it open to broad interpretation, depending on who you are.

Also, it means users will be forced to begin implementing near continuous monitoring of device and license use, an administrative headache.

Microsoft is effectively turning True Up from a once-a-year process (one of True Up's biggest advantages) into a form of real-time license management. Furthermore, Microsoft’s changes will snare organisations such as retailers, whose number of employees fluctuate, going up and down with shopping seasons.

The need to know about the maximum number products used seem tailored to catch those whose annual True Ups fall outside of busy peak periods.

A True Up is an annual event, designed to reconcile the number of licenses a customer has bought with those they’ve actually used. Historically it’s been constructed as a snap shot of a customers use meaning True Ups that take place outside of a busy time will miss peak license use.

Failure to be able to list license and device use leaves customers arguing from a position of weakness against Microsoft on what it owes at audit time.

DeGroot estimates just 15 per cent of his company’s customers are able to produce a good list of the devices they have on their networks.

“Make sure you know what you have when Microsoft calls,” DeGroot told The Reg.

More on the True Up change is scheduled to appear on the Pica Communications site, here. ®


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