Microsoft has launched new tools to help partners navigate two of the company's more complicated offerings: product licensing and the Windows Vista client OS.

The licensing tool, called Microsoft LicenseWise, builds upon a previously released tool for Microsoft customers, Product License Advisor. Product License Advisor helps customers configure an IT environment and generate a report online that would tell them what licences they would need and the cost, Mike Oldham, general manager for Microsoft's worldwide licensing and pricing, said at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver.

LicenseWise picks up, for Microsoft's business partners, where that tool leaves off, he said. It allows a partner to access a quote a customer generated in Product License Advisor, build its own pricing into it and then generate a proposal back to the customer for how much it would cost to license those products through the partner.

Microsoft's complicated licensing schemes have long been a headache for partners and customers, but the company has made a concerted effort in the past several years to simplify the process, Oldham said. For instance, just two years ago Microsoft had 74 licensing models customers could choose from; now they have nine, he said.

More information about LicenseWise can be found on Microsoft's partner website.

The new Vista tool also is an extension of software that is already available, called Windows Vista Hardware Assessment, said Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of the Windows business group. That application helps business users see how much effort it will take to migrate desktops in a company to Vista by testing the hardware and device-driver capability of PCs against the operating system (OS), and issuing reports about those results

The new tool, Windows Vista Business Value Assessment, allows partners to sit down with customers to not only assess how Vista will impact their network, but also figure out how to improve the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the installation, Sievert said.

TCO is "front and centre on the minds of our customers" when it comes to Vista, he said. Sievert acknowledged that business customers are still in the early stages of deploying the OS, which was released to business customers last November, so it's important Microsoft articulate how to upgrade to Vista in the most cost-effective way possible.