Microsoft partner guides users on Software Assurance

It’s almost time. Do you know what your software will cost?

For businesses using Microsoft Corp. software — which is pretty much all of them — July 31 is the day the Redmond-based firm’s volume licensing changes take effect.

Since Microsoft announced a shift in licensing structure last spring, users have been left wondering what the change will mean to their bottom lines.

In response, Toronto-based reseller Softchoice Corp. has launched its Licensing Wizard, a Web-based tool designed to clear up the confusion. By plugging into the calculator the number of current licenses, prior licenses, and unlicensed Microsoft product a business has, users get a cost-free assessment telling them exactly how much license updates will cost, before and after the July 31st deadline.

According to Microsoft, most customers won’t end up paying more under the new licensing system, which scraps the four-year upgrade cycle and gives business users the choice between two-year maintenance contracts or paying full price for upgrades. The announced changes caused enough of an uproar that Microsoft extended the Software Assurance/ Upgrade Advantage deadlines from last fall to next month.

Still, according to Nicole Wengle, director of customer service for Softchoice, Microsoft users are still foggy about the coming transition. Even those that know about the deadline are not fully aware of the impact the changes will have, she said.

“”Most customers will say, ‘I didn’t even know about July 31st,”” she said. “”Especially in the small-to-medium sized space, there’s more customers that aren’t aware of it.””

Softchoice designed its Licensing Wizard based on Microsoft Licensing programs without input from the software giant. But Microsoft supports the initiative.

“”We’re excited that Softchoice would put effort into a product like that,”” said Bill Depatie, Microsoft Canada Co.‘s manager of channel sales, adding that while a number of Microsoft partners have asset management tools, Softchoice’s Wizard is the only one he knows of that is specifically addressing the license changes. “”I think that there are still customers out there who do not know fully what the licensing changes are. And with the deadline July 31st, there’s not a lot of time to get information.””

“”The more we help customers in purchasing product, that helps them as well,”” Wengle added.

Wengle said the Licensing Wizard, which can quote prices in both Canadian and American dollars, stands apart from other calculators in that it doesn’t presuppose awareness among users of their licensing options. Users only have to tell the Wizard what Microsoft products and licenses they already have.

The Wizard shows users the cost of updating their licenses through the Enterprise Agreement, Business Open License and Select License programs. The programs differ in a number of criteria, including of length of agreement, minimum number of license purchases and whether or not users must sign a contract. In every case, however, it will be much more costly if users wait until after July 31st to update their licenses.

For example, if a company has 10 current Microsoft Office Professional licenses, 20 prior licenses and 5 unlicensed editions, the Open License program cost before July 31st is about $19,000 and more than $40,000 after their deadline. The Select License cost before the deadline is about $18,000 compared to $38,000 after July 31st. Depatie said there will be no more extensions after the July 31st deadline.

“”When you see dollar figures attached to it, the sense of urgency around the changes takes on new meaning,”” Wengle said. “”I ‘d definitely want to make sure my organization prepares orders before July 31st to save money.””

Wengle acknowledged some customers might be weary about admitting online to having unlicensed product, but she said customers are less weary about giving such information to Softchoice than to Microsoft.

“”We give them a spot because that’s common in a lot of companies,”” Wengle said of unlicensed product. “”We’re their partner to make sure they license in the most effective way. We’re not someone who would report them to the police or the BSA (Business Software Alliance).””

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