According to Microsoft, the MPSA offers a broad range of benefits over Select Plus, such as the fact that the contract is almost 30 pages shorter while at the same time being broader in scope in a number of ways, thus encompassing more account types and scenarios.
A key advantage is that it can be used to consolidate in a single contract the purchases of both traditional on-premises software and cloud-hosted products, and later even professional services. In Select Plus, that requires the signing of three separate contracts: the "foundation" Select Plus agreement, the Business and Services Agreement and the Online Services Agreement. The MPSA consolidates "all applicable terms and conditions" from those three contracts.
"Mixing and matching cloud and on-premises products in the same agreement, and allowing customers to migrate back and forth, is something every software company needs to work on from a licensing perspective," IDC analyst Amy Konary said.
However, it's not clear how the MPSA will impact the other two Volume Licensing plans for larger organizations: Enterprise Agreement (EA) and Enterprise Subscription Agreement (ESA). Both are for companies that want to license Microsoft products in bulk across their entire organization, not in some select business units.
Microsoft declined to be interviewed for this article. A company spokeswoman said via email that the MPSA is "suitable for mid-sized businesses with at least 250 employees or devices" and that the company is "working closely" with Enterprise Agreement customers "to understand their evolving needs," and "will continue to enhance the EA over time."
Questions about Microsoft's "next generation" of Volume Licensing
So a number of things about the MPSA and about Microsoft's grand plan to simplify licensing aren't yet clear. For starters, the MPSA is still in limited availability and it isn't fully implemented. Ironically, this transitional period could add to Microsoft licensing complexity and confusion.
In December, Microsoft launched the MPSA for medium-size companies in the U.S., Germany, Canada and the U.K. In a follow-up blog post in March, Microsoft's Smith reported that early adopters "are finding value in consolidating multiple agreements into one MPSA" and that Microsoft would be expanding the availability of the new agreement to six new countries: France, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland.
With Microsoft taking a gradual approach for its rollout, it's not clear when the MPSA will be fully implemented and widely available.
"Microsoft's Next Generation Volume Licensing initiative is a journey with a phased approach. As such, we will continue to share news as we reach various milestones," the Microsoft spokeswoman said via email.
It's not a sure thing that the current initiative will succeed. Over the years Microsoft has frequently adjusted its licensing policies and procedures, attempting always to make them easier to understand, but that goal remains a moving, elusive target.
Enterprise customers find Microsoft licensing vexing
"Microsoft's licensing model is far too complicated and onerous," said Mark Johnson, a longtime enterprise IT chief who is president of CIO advisory firm Xtrii. "People typically don't buy what they don't understand."
David Annis, CIO and vice president of IT at a marketing promotion management company in Arizona, concurs. "I'm not sure how much more complicated Microsoft can make their licensing model," he said.