Vista, Office Delays Into '07 Could Impact Software Assurance Customers

Microsoft Software Assurance customers whose maintenance ends Dec. 30 have no assurance they will get Windows Vista or Office 2007 if those business versions are delayed beyond 2006.
Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) customers whose maintenance ends Dec. 30 have no assurance they will get Windows Vista or Office 2007 if those business versions are delayed beyond 2006.

Recently, Microsoft pledged that Windows Vista Enterprise and Vista Business bits would be available to enterprise customers in November and that Office 2007 business bits would be available to business customers in October. The Redmond, Wash., software giant also said all other packaged Windows and Office consumer versions will be available in early 2007. All versions of Vista and Office had been expected expected to ship in 2006.

But what if the business bits are delayed into 2007? It's a potential scenario that customers, partners, analysts and Microsoft are grappling with.

One New York-based Microsoft partner said customers aren't worried about a potential delay in the code, but they would be upset if they feel forced to sign up for SA again to get upgrades they feel they already have paid for.

Such a scenario isn’t unthinkable. It happened to SA customers when Microsoft delayed SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 into 2005. Those products originally were slated to ship at the end of 2004.

"I have heard that concern expressed," said the Microsoft partner, who requested anonymity. "But my own concern is that starting with Visual Studio and SQL Server, and now with Vista, Microsoft seems to really be bogged down with completion anxiety."

Officially, Microsoft's policy states that customers lose version upgrade rights and other benefits when their Software Assurance agreement expires. So if Vista and Office business bits are delayed into 2007, customers whose SA expires later this year would have to sign up for another three-year term of maintenance to get those upgrades, said Sunny Jensen-Charlebois, product manager for worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft.

"Software Assurance is a maintenance program. No one guarantees upgrades. It's just something we're not able to do and we won't deliver product if it doesn't deliver quality standards," said Jensen-Charlesbois. "That's why we have an existing policy and software assurance hasn't changed in that regard. Software Assurance is not just about upgrades."

She advised customers to contact their Microsoft representatives to understand the terms of their agreement or if they have questions about their agreement.

Microsoft, for its part, said it’s confident about shipping the Vista and Office 2007 business versions on the 2006 dates it recently outlined. Still, it appears there may be some wiggle room. Jensen-Charlesbois, for example, said customers should check their individual contracts with Microsoft to assess their standing.

When asked if Microsoft might offer those customers an exception if further delays occur, Windows client product manager Michael Burke told CRN that Microsoft is looking into that.

Microsoft likely won’t revise its policy because it would undermine the new version rights value proposition of SA to do so, according to Alvin Park, an analyst at research firm Gartner. "It will be a moot point if they make good on those dates. They will cross that bridge if and when they have to cross it," he said.

"But if they miss either or both of those dates, I would assume that the rules for Software Assurance have not and will not change," Park added. "I don’t think that Microsoft, as a standard practice, even in customized deals, would give a customer an exception. For if they did and word got out, it would undermine their Software Assurance strategy."

Microsoft rolled out a new set of SA benefits for customers in mid-March.

Matt Scherocman, director of PCMS IT Advisor Group, a Cincinnati-based Microsoft solution provider, said he doesn't expect much impact if Vista and Office business editons are delayed into 2007 because it would only affect a small percentage of all SA customers. About 50 percent of Microsoft customers sign up SA, according to Gartner estimates.

"The population here is small," Scherocman said. "Plus, we are finding that most clients that are in multiyear agreements, especially Enterprise Agreements, are generally renewing the agreement anyway. Over the long term, we still believe that SA is the least expensive route for clients."