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MS preparing license audit blitzkrieg?

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If a recent story by ZD-Net is accurate, then it appears Microsoft has a new marketing tool for encouraging business customers to sign up for their easy-peasy, but rather expensive, software license subscription scheme in favor of the old, confusing, audit-it-yourself deal.

The gimmick involves demanding detailed license audits of medium-sized businesses and making sure they're considerably more expensive and troublesome than the new Enterprise Agreement Subscription scheme, which offers free upgrades and on-line license-management tools along with its higher sticker price.

According to the story, Microsoft has targeted 5,000 medium-sized businesses for the royal treatment, and is giving them thirty days to reply with a finished audit. The company says this is just part of an on-going effort to fight piracy. The ZD-Net story seems to want us to believe that there's been an escalation recently, but stops short of saying so.

Either way, the practice has tantalizing implications, especially since the MS marketing department is involved to some extent. We know from an internal memo by MS ad house McCann Erickson that Redmond is very eager to "reverse declining upgrade trends for the Office franchise," for example.

Presumably, after spending several thousands of dollars quickly rooting through every odd computer on the premises and scrambling to figure out if they're loaded with forbidden software, large commercial customers will see the light and gratefully opt for the package Redmond feels most comfortable selling them.

Which of course raises the possibility that MS could use the audits in a punitive manner, not against suspected cheats, but rather to bully subscription resisters into getting with the program.

Call it an inverse sales demo, illustrating not how great the new Enterprise Agreement is, but how hideous the alternative is, and how doubly hideous Microsoft can make it if it pleases. ®

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