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Technology Corridor

Microsoft's licensing practices push three utilities to re-evaluate their software needs.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 1 2003

option under Licensing 6.0 and instead pay the cost of a new license fee when they decide to up-grade-likely in four or more years.

A Little Bit Onerous

Two motivating factors pushed Ameren to sign up for Software Assurance. First, the company was already two versions behind the current (XP) version of Microsoft's Office products. And some third-party applications depended on having more current versions of Microsoft software installed.

"If we didn't take on the Software Assurance package, and relicensed later, it would have cost three to four times as much as what we paid for Software Assurance," says Dave Braun, senior engineer in networks at Ameren. And according to Tom Vavra, supervising engineer of network engineering, the break-even point for waiting to upgrade was between four and five years. Although the company had just rolled out the Windows NT operating system, Braun says they were two versions behind on the Office suite and already had planned a rollout of XP when Microsoft announced the changes to its licensing program. "We didn't think we could wait the three to four years to make [an upgrade] economical and feasible to relicense," Braun says.

What drove the XP rollout, however, wasn't necessarily any new features of the Office XP suite. "There were no compelling new features in the upgrade, but we need to stay current from a support standpoint," Vavra says. "There was some level of third-party application dependency that may utilize Office in some regard. We can't be too far behind on releases of [Office]."

Braun hazards a guess that Ameren will sign up for at least one more year of Software Assurance before making a decision about any further upgrades. He maintains that it is difficult to say whether, within the time frame of Software Assurance, Ameren will be able to utilize the upgrade rights of the program. "I don't know what we're getting for the money, in my personal opinion. I'm buying maintenance on a package that [Microsoft] may never roll out in that time frame. It's a little bit onerous," he says.

Looking at Linux

When Microsoft initially launched the Licensing 6.0 program and was pressuring customers to sign up for the Enterprise version, Westar Energy took a hard look at it and opted not to sign up. Instead, says John Fitzgerald, senior director of applications at Westar, the company signed up for the Select licensing program. It was a simple decision, he says, because going with the Enterprise license would have cost Westar two to three times more than the Select option, and for little benefit.

Part of the reason, according to Fitzgerald, is that Westar IT operates as an IBM shop with many Microsoft products running. For example, Westar uses a LotusNotes/Domino server for e-mail, as well as Lotus SmartSuite. The Enterprise option covered Windows, Office, and Exchange. "If we were an Exchange customer, we probably would have gotten benefit out of it," Fitzgerald says, "but it was a huge cost difference."

Yet, even before the Licensing 6.0 program gave many Microsoft customers pause, Westar had begun moving