Microsoft's decision to make an enterprise edition of Windows Vista available only to companies that have signed on to its Software Assurance upgrade protection and maintenance programme is rankling some IT managers.
The software vendor disclosed the exclusive availability plan for its Windows Vista Enterprise client as part of a series of enhancements to the controversial Software Assurance (SA) program, which it introduced four years ago. The added features also include deployment planning services for desktop PC rollouts and round-the-clock problem resolution support.
Dennis Callahan, CIO at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America in New York, said he expects to use many of the new extras as part of his company's Enterprise Agreement, which has SA built in. "But if I didn't have a deal," he added, "I would be livid at not getting full volume encryption, given Microsoft's track record on security."
Full volume encryption is a hardware-based data-protection technology that's one of the key new features pegged for inclusion in Windows Vista Enterprise. The technology is aimed at helping companies that lose laptop PCs prevent unauthorised users from accessing their data.
Windows Vista Enterprise will also include a feature that lets IT administrators with global deployments localise a single disk image by including all languages supported by Windows. In addition, the Virtual PC Express technology will be bundled with Vista so users can run legacy applications in a virtual machine.
David Buzzell, CIO at The Sedona Group, said the staffing firm's first experience with SA turned out to be "totally worthless" after Microsoft didn't deliver a product upgrade in a timely fashion. "It would have been more prudent for me to bypass SA and just purchase a new licence when needed," he said.
Buzzell added that if his company decides it needs features in Windows Vista Enterprise, he would "hate to be blackmailed into having to make an either/or choice."
But Brian Siler, a lead programmer analyst at Hilton Hotels, said it makes sense for Microsoft to offer extra benefits such as Windows Vista Enterprise to SA customers. Companies buy the contracts for "precisely this reason," Siler said.
To get SA benefits, a company must either purchase a three-year Enterprise Agreement or pay an annual fee of 29 per cent of the licence cost for desktop products and 25 per cent for server products they have bought under the Select or Open licensing agreements.
Sunny Jensen Charlebois, a senior product manager in Microsoft's worldwide licensing and pricing group, said the company collected feedback from volume licensing customers and sought to map the latest batch of SA enhancements to the ways in which the customers use the program as part of the software life cycle.
The expanded problem-resolution support offering could give some SA customers a chance to reduce their spending on support agreements with Microsoft by 50 per cent, said Julie Giera, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Giera doesn't see the requirement that users have SA to get Windows Vista Enterprise as a nefarious plot by Microsoft. "It would be a mistake to say this is a deliberate carrot they're hanging out there to force companies to buy Software Assurance," she said. "They're trying to reward companies that have stuck with them."
But Adrian Brown, CIO at Canal Insurance, compared the new SA benefits to a sequence in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, when the father first shows his children a rundown house in order to make the mediocre one to which they're moving look better than the one they're leaving.
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