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Microsoft is making its notoriously complex system of licensing easier to understand. But it is stopping short of changes that could cut software costs.

On July 1, the company will introduce changes which should make pricing terms easier for customers to fathom. They are specifically designed to ease the administrative burden for enterprise customers under its volume licensing programs.

"Licensing was too complex and confusing... we had to drill down and find out where the confusion and difficulty was," Sunny Charlebois, product manger for worldwide licensing, told The Register.

"I still think we have work to do to continue to simplify licensing... it's important to try to find the pieces we need to simplify."

She did not, though, indicate if Microsoft will also change the way it charges for software or if it plans to update Software Assurance (SA). According to some analysts SA pushes up customers' software costs, but Microsoft has always argued that SA helps customers save money.

The news Ts&Cs are welcomed by at least one Microsoft watcher, Paul deGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. Changes to language and a new categorization of products make things much easier for customers, he said: "It's easier to read, it's easier to understand and a lot more accessible to people."

"This goes back to one of the most critical problems with Microsoft licensing - it's so damn complex. It was so complex, that Microsoft in the field couldn't understand the licensing in many cases. It's been like calling for an airline ticket, where you keep calling until you get the best price. You just kept calling until someone says 'Yes, you can do this'."

Microsoft's Product Use Rights (PUR) document, which - as the name implies - specifies the conditions under which Microsoft products can be used, has been streamlined from 104 pages to 44 by reducing legalese and repetition. The complexity of PUR has been made worse by the fact that it is updated each quarter to reflect a barrage of new products and stock keeping units (SKUs) of existing products. Again, Microsoft has not indicated if it plans to change this.

"If you were a big company, you needed one of your lawyers to spend a day or week each quarter to look through [the PUR] to see what happened because the PUR was updated each quarter," DeGroot said.

Microsoft has also categorized its portfolio of 70 products into nine groups in the PUR, with products categorized according to specific terms. The move reduces so-called exceptions - use clauses that that are unique to specific products licensing.

DeGroot said, for example, that SQL Server customers are allowed to run a back-up copy of the server without a license - unlike users of Exchange Server, who must license the fail-over edition of their server. So customers running SQL Server who then set-up Exchange Server thought they were OK, but risked licensing violations because the products' use rights were unclear.

Charlebois promised Microsoft would keep exceptions to a "minimum" in the future, although she added "we need to be able to have flexible licensing terms."

The nine categories group products into servers that are charged on: a per processor basis; a server/client access license (CAL) basis; server operating system basis; specialist servers; desktop operating system basis; management servers; desktop applications; developer tools; and online services. ®

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MS tweaks volume licensing
Microsoft SA - reasons to comply
Windows licensing - don't swallow it, says MS

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