Microsoft is pledging dramatic improvements to its notoriously complex enterprise licensing, but experts are skeptical about the potential impact of the plan.
Microsoft's licensing policies and procedures are devilishly convoluted, a situation that has worsened in recent years with the popularity of virtualization, cloud computing, mobile devices and the consumerization of IT.
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By fracturing the conventional software hosting, access and delivery structures, these four trends have muddied the waters of software use rights for most vendors and their customers. Microsoft in particular has been very affected, due to its huge and varied roster of products, coupled with a licensing scheme that lacks uniformity and consistency.
Recognizing that confusing licensing is bad for its business, for its partners and for its customers, Microsoft last November announced in a blog post that help was on the way.
"We are taking careful, deliberate steps to introduce a next-generation approach to commercial licensing with a new, more flexible and simplified purchasing experience across all solutions," wrote Richard Smith, general manager of Microsoft's global licensing and pricing division.
At the center of the effort is the new Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA), which the company describes as the "next generation" and "end-to-end transformation" of Volume Licensing, the long-standing program designed to let businesses buy products and services in bulk and get discounts and benefits not available to retail customers.
However, some experts aren't convinced that the MPSA will generate ground-shaking changes. "I don't believe that this is a 'transformation' as Richard describes it," said Duncan Jones, a Forrester Research analyst. "It is a good simplification, but not a huge change."
What is the MPSA?
The MPSA, launched in limited scope in December after a pilot program, has three main components: a revamped contractual structure, a reworked buying platform and new licensing-management systems and tools. It's designed to give customers a streamlined licensing process for buying products and services, more purchasing flexibility and simplified asset administration.
Microsoft said it will use the MPSA as the "foundation" for the future of its Volume Licensing program, which currently has six plan options: three for organizations with up to 250 computers and three for organizations with more than 250 computers.
For the time being, the MPSA will co-exist with the Volume Licensing plans, but it will eventually replace at least one of them: Select Plus, which is for midsize and large organizations that want to license software in bulk for one or more specific business units -- as opposed to their entire user base -- while getting volume discounts as a single organization.