A New Vista on SA for Windows
Is Software Assurance on the desktop really for you (or anyone)?
- By Scott Braden
Recent client discussions reminded me that deciding whether to buy Software
Assurance (SA) is still a complex and intimidating decision for many companies.
So let's take a look at one of the more complicated topics: Windows desktop.
Probably the most common point of confusion is the meaning and impact of OEM
licensing for Windows.
To start, there are only two ways to buy a new, full copy of Windows:
- When you buy a new PC from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
- When you buy a full license via retail (aka "shrink wrap").
That's it, folks! Microsoft does not offer volume license customers any other
means to buy a PC with a "blank" hard drive and install a full, legal
copy of Windows. Instead, most of us will buy our PCs preloaded with some version
of Windows from the OEM.
So when you buy Software Assurance for Windows Desktop (and Microsoft products
in general), you're not buying "full license rights," but rather "upgrade
rights" along with all of the other SA benefits (more on those later).
One more thing about OEM Windows (and Microsoft OEM software in general): The
original license is non-transferable, meaning the license for Windows that came
with a particular PC must stay with that PC forever; you may not re-allocate
it to other PCs. However, the Software Assurance coverage is transferable, with
some reasonable restrictions.
Now, since the only realistic way to get Windows desktop licenses is with a
new PC, and you can't keep the license when you retire the PC, and the OEMs
are usually going to ship the latest version of Windows, it begs the question:
Why do you need Software Assurance, anyway? Why not just wait for your usual
three- or five-year PC replacement to update your operating systems? After all,
you're going to have to physically touch all of those machines eventually (at
significant time and expense for large shops).
I think that's been a significant challenge for Microsoft -- especially as
the Longhorn/Vista releases drag out and customers complain about SA dollars
that never resulted in an upgrade. I also think that's a key reason for some
of the recent announced "enhancements" to Software Assurance. Let's
take a look at those.
Microsoft recently announced changes to Software Assurance to be effective
in March 2006. Among these are Windows Preinstallation Environment and Windows
Vista Enterprise. Although these are being sold as "benefits of SA"
I actually view them as a reactive, restrictive move by Microsoft to protect
their Windows SA revenue. Here's why: In past versions of Windows, there was
no "up charge" for enterprise-type deployment tools. And in past versions
of other products such as Windows Server, Microsoft offered "upgrade-only"
licenses to the Advanced or Enterprise versions.
The net effect is customers who have to renew their license agreements before
March 2006 are forced to make a judgment call -- based largely on Microsoft’s
promises about new products that haven’t shipped yet.
So what should you do?
First, spend some time on Microsoft’s Web site and discussion forums
to find out as much as you can about what functionality that is and isn’t
slated to be included in Vista, Windows PE and Vista Enterprise. Decide if your
shop even needs the promised functionality at all.
Next, look at your existing tools: deployment tools, imaging tools, desktop
management tools. Do you already own the functionality you need? Why buy it
again? Ask your non-Microsoft tool vendors about their plans to support Vista.
Finally, talk to your Microsoft and reseller reps to find out exactly how much
Windows SA will cost you. Let them try to prove their business case and understand
Whatever you do, don’t be bullied or snowballed into buying SA for Windows
unless you know exactly why you need it and you have factored in the appropriate
"software vendor exaggeration ratio."
Final note: There are a lot more details to Windows OEM licensing that I don’t
have room to cover here, but I've written a complete quick-reference guide. If
you’d be interested in purchasing a copy, send an e-mail to [email protected]
(and feel free to send along any questions you have on this topic as well).
Scott Braden has helped more than 600 companies negotiate Microsoft volume
license deals. For a free case study, "How a Mid-size Company Saved over
$870,000 on a $3 million Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, in Less Than Three
Weeks," visit www.MicrosoftCaseStudy.com.