Microsoft is reducing the length of some bulk software contracts and cutting as many as half of its SKUs, or stock keeping units, in certain product segments.

This week the company said it was reducing the length of three of its volume-licensing agreements between 10 percent to 50 percent. Its Enterprise Agreement, Enterprise Subscription, Select Licence, Open Value, Open Value Subscription and Open Licence contracts are affected.

Microsoft also has made it easier for customers to navigate licence information and sign up online, the company said. The changes will be phase in throughout its fiscal year 2008, which began 1 July.

Microsoft has been tweaking its volume licenses over the last several years in an effort to make them less complicated for customers. The company also faces pressure from the industry move to subscription licences. Microsoft is keeping up with some of these changes by offering more business software as subscription services, but still has a history of complex product licensing to contend with.

Specifically, Microsoft said it will reduce the number of price points and SKUs for each of its volume licensing programmes, which will simplify customers' search for specific product pricing. Currently, Microsoft has more than 8 million price points worldwide, which can be confusing for customers. To reduce the number of price points, individual product SKUs with the same pricing will change to one term, called "Single Language," the company said.

For example, a product such as SQL Server has versions for different languages. If it is sold with support for only one language, such as English, and is priced the same as other versions for other languages, the products now will be listed as "SQL Server Single Language" rather than with each language listed individually, Microsoft said.

According to Microsoft, just doing this reduces price points in the Select programme by 51 percent and the number of product SKUs by 72 percent. In the Open Value program, price points are reduced by 50 percent and SKUs by 51 percent, and in the Open License programme, prices points are reduced by 32 percent and the number of SKUs by 33 percent, the company said.

Microsoft also has made some content changes to all of its volume licensing agreements to streamline the language used in them, as well as added a table of contents and summary titles to agreements to make them easier for customers to navigate.

In addition to the changes, Microsoft also is launching a Volume Licensing Service Center online that will help customers manage their volume licences. The service centre will provide downloads to software that customers are eligible to receive under their agreements, and also allow them to view and request Volume Licensing Product Keys for software in their agreements. Additionally, customers can calculate licence statements on the website.