MS cracks down on MSDN subs, threatens ‘random audits’

Squeeze out more money spotlight now falls on developers

Microsoft is cracking down on commercial use of software obtained via MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscriptions, and intends to conduct random audits of subscribers. Depressingly, this seems to have happened just after it was drawn to The Register's attention that an MSDN sub could be a pretty cheap way of keeping a small business (like us) equipped with the latest.

But under the circs it's probably lucky we didn't get as far as paying the sub and doing the rollout, because the effective 'grey area' in MSDN software use is being redefined in black and white. MSDN subs are intended to give Microsoft's developer partners early and continuing access to code, so they can develop for it. They pay a reasonable whack for the deal, but in general (if we skip over the odd kick in the teeth) they get a pretty good service, and it's worth it, both for them and for Microsoft.

But as many of the subscribers are small businesses or even solo developers, they're unlikely to have the resources to be able to ring-fence their development systems away from their production systems. Others are working on systems so large and beefy that it's entirely unreasonable to suggest (which is effectively what Microsoft is doing) that they set up non-live simulations in order to be able to use MSDN software.

And although the MSDN deal is that subscription software "cannot be used in a live production environment" (which is what Microsoft has just re-stressed to them), inevitably large numbers of subscribers do this very thing. That might be because they simply can't afford duplicate systems, or because they reckon paying the sub gives them at least the moral right to do so.

Obviously, the system gets abused, but in general these people are on Microsoft's team, and most of them aren't running 250 seat networks on a single MSDN sub.

Xo "Matt" Larimer of Traffficware Corp has received a letter from Microsoft "telling me in effect that I can't use my MSDN license for anything and that [Microsoft] will be using their customer list to do random auditing of their MSDN subscribers." He's responded with an email to Kirk Selby, Microsoft compliance manager, and copied it to Steve Ballmer and The Register.

Larimer objects to being treated like a thief, and squeezed and threatened. As a software company, Trafficware "is fully aware of piracy and the correct use of software licenses, and I can tell you right now that as a three person company with over 20 full licenses of different Windows* (because it was faster buying it than waiting for MSDN...) on about ten computers that we are legit beyond belief."

Larimer says that it's Microsoft's "dirty secret" that it made Windows a standard by courting developers to write for it, "but now by making us not supportive of your Windows environment by reason of veiled threats, you make us not willing to write to your OS any more."

He queries Microsoft apparently viewing "cannot be used in a live production environment" as being more important than the rest of the licence. "We need to test the software to see if it works. That means that if we have our Novell server talking to a SBS server and sharing the data between them with our client software, we have to do it in a 'live environment' because that is what it is. A test that replicates one of 'our' customers' (which in effect would be yours too since we require Windows) setups to see if we can replicate an errata that they're telling us about."

Seems reasonable enough - what do think, Mr Ballmer? ®

* What a coincidence! I personally have over 20 different licences of different Windows! Historians among you might also have noticed the coincidence between Trafficware's line of business, traffic signal software, and the business of a Gates-Allen pre-Microsoft company, Traf-O-Data. - JL

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