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Microsoft thin client licence policy on brink of collapse

The company is planning evolution, but can't stop revolution

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Microsoft's 'review' of licensing policy looks set to result in the demise of 'per station' licensing fees early next year. According to US reports, the company will attempt to hold the pass by making some allowance for people working from home, and for Internet access - but here be dragons. Large numbers of Microsoft corporate customers want to deploy thin client-style server-based computing systems, and to save money on hardware and administration costs by using cheap terminals that their users can't reconfigure/break. The numbers stack up on the hardware side, but Microsoft's current policy (as doggedly defended by Solveig Whittle at Citrix's Thinnergy ) dictates that each and every client requires a Client Access Licence (CAL) for NT, and an NT Workstation licence. It doesn't matter whether or not the client is an NT workstation (it would be a strange thin client if it was) - it's accessing NT Server apps, so it has to pay the licence. IT management also has other Microsoft-related problem here. They could deploy thin client systems broadly, giving many users the ability to run Win32 apps even if they're only likely to do so on an occasional basis, Microsoft requires a licence fee for every station that has the ability to do so. Microsoft has phased out concurrent licensing, where only the total number of simultaneous connections is billed for, so this isn't a cost-effective route - if you stick with Microsoft. The Web is the third problem, and potentially the biggest hole in the dam that Microsoft has been trying to maintain. Logically, if you're running a Web application on NT Server, and your customers can visit your site and use it, then somebody in this loop has to pay Microsoft for the CAL and the NT Workstation licence. You could just about figure out how to do this if Microsoft billed for concurrent connections, but the present policy clearly can't work. How many people hit your Web site? When they get there, are they doing something that requires Microsoft licences? Exactly... The easy problem Microsoft seems poised to tackle is home use. Some allowance is going to be made for people who work occasionally from home, who don't have NT Workstation installed there, but who nevertheless need to connect to an NT server at the office. It also seems to have dawned on Microsoft that the Web drives a very large tank through its finely-crafted licensing policy, so something's going to be done about that. What, is not entirely clear. From Microsoft's statements on the subject so far, it seems crystal clear that the company is going to do the bare minimum it needs to in order to stop the entire structure falling apart. But what this bare minimum is is a lot less obvious. Microsoft's pricing structure is based on larger amounts of money coming from the client end, whereas in the world of total connectivity (which will be upon us Real Soon Now) you can bill at the server end, and as and when (not yet) you can microbill at the client end, the sums are going to be very small, and the pricing model is going to be entirely different. We turn to our good friends at InfoWorld for conclusive proof that the Microsoft licence model ain't working. We note that they quote the VP of information and technology of the House of Blues chain as complaining about Microsoft's Terminal Server licensing model, and favouring Citrix instead. When Microsoft rolled out Terminal Server earlier this year one of the case study businesses it used to support the product was, er, House of Blues. ®

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