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The TechNet Subscription Thing: You're All Nuts. Or I Am.

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Probably every Microsoft IT Pro in the world knows that the company has discontinued its paid TechNet subscription program, which offered full-version, non-expiring Microsoft software for evaluation purposes only.

The vitriol over this issue is amazing. I'm impressed that IT pros are getting so involved and vocal about what they see as a major snafu.

Let me briefly quote a few passages from the now-defunct Subscription License Agreement:

"Only one person may use or access a single subscription or any subscription benefits;" if the company subscribed, then the company "must assign the subscription to only one person, and only that person may use or access the subscription or any subscription benefits." In other words, the software you got through TechNet was for one human being only to use.

"You may install and use the software on your devices only to evaluate software." Now, they give us expiring eval software for free, and I don't know why an eval would take longer than the extremely long eval period (typically 180 days), and I don't know why you'd want to pay for something that is given away for free. If you do enjoy paying for stuff that's already free, I happily accept checks for your use of Google.com.

"You may not use the software in a live operating environment, in a staging environment...." In other words, you're explicitly not allowed to use TechNet software to build out a permanent test lab. You need a test lab? You gotta pay for it. It's cheaper than production because you don't have to buy CALs, since you have no clients in the lab, but you gotta pay for the software in a permanent lab environment. From the few conversations I've had, this is the big thing people are going to miss. Because that's what they were using it for.
"You may not use the software for application development." That's what MSDN is for.

"You may not share, transfer...or assign your subscription." It's yours and yours alone. So if you set up some TechNet software and you and your colleagues worked with it... well, that's not what you paid for.

Frankly, I think Microsoft probably took this move simply because of rampant license abuse.

But we need a lab environment! Of course you do. Obvious statement. TechNet wasn't it, though. If you're a big enough organization to have a lab environment, you're probably on an Enterprise Agreement or some other contract. Negotiate free lab licenses from Microsoft. Ask for like a 1 percent overage (or whatever your number is) to populate your lab, so you can test and use software on a continuing basis.

I know. Labs take a long time to set up. But you weren't given TechNet for labs. You were explicitly not supposed to use it in labs. It was for evaluating software that you don't own, to see if you want to buy it. That was it. If you can't do that in the 180 days provided, your boss didn't plan the project out very well. And the "they don't provide evals for past products" is a bit silly. Why would you buy a past product? If you want a lab to run Windows 7... it's probably because you already own Windows 7. You're not evaluating it at that point. You bought it.

Yeah, I know folks took forever to catch up to Windows 7, and now Windows 8.1 is on the horizon. I actually sympathize with that point. A lot. But I imagine Microsoft doesn't. And for that matter, guys, we're talking about Windows 7. What's a license of that going to cost you so that you can spin up an eval environment? $180 bucks? C'mon. If you know you're going to deploy it and you're looking to build a test/pilot lab... that's not evaluating. Microsoft wants you to pay for those licenses, and it is Microsoft's software. So negotiate with it. "Hey, we'll deploy this, but we want 10 free copies [or whatever] to play with."

Now, MSDN is an alternative. A mega-pricey one. Microsoft could absolutely produce a "Lab License Pack" or something for IT pros. Maybe they should. Maybe they're entitled to full pricing for their software. I honestly don't know on this point. I'd like to see MS enabling labs, because it's a smart business practice I feel they should encourage. That said, labs bring significant benefit to business in terms of stability and reliability -- and those two things typically cost money.

Azure? Maybe. It's certainly a stopping point between "free" and "full price." But not everything is available in Azure. Yeah, you could build VMs, sure, but you still have to acquire a valid license for everything but the OS. I can't imagine building a client OS deployment lab in Azure.

I don't think the problem here is IT pros themselves. Y'all aren't crazy, and neither am I -- and neither is Microsoft. This whole issue is mainly a disconnect, I think. You need long-term lab/test/pilot environments. You believe the company is taking away the resource you used to build that environment. They're not. They never gave you that source -- TechNet was for evaluations, not testing. Not piloting. Not labs. It was for test drives, and as we all know, you don't get to keep the car when you test-drive it. You gotta buy it.

So: You continue to have an unmet need. Of course you need a lab/test/pilot environment. You need to try a ton of scenarios, and it takes longer than 180 days. You've already bought the software -- Microsoft is telling you that you have to buy it again to build your sandbox.

You want to pay nothing for the lab (me, too). Microsoft wants full price. There must be some middle ground.

What is it? Negotiating lab licensing into EA (or whatever) contracts? Cheaper versions of the software for lab use (how do you prevent it from creeping into production)? Free, non-expiring, "limited" lab editions (e.g., max 10 connections)?

What would work for you that you think you could convince Microsoft to offer?

(And please, I know this is a charged topic -- but polite, professional, realistic responses are best here -- I do plan to collect those and forward them up the chain of command I have access to within Microsoft. Help me make your argument.)

Posted by Don Jones on 08/29/2013 at 11:46 AM


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