We've been out of Microsoft's Corporate licensing model for quite a while and it's been good, no, it's been GREAT.
Whenever I've needed a Microsoft Product, I've wandered down to the local retail outlet and purchased it. Sure, sometimes I've been a little annoyed when it's not in stock and I've had to wait a day or two but on the whole, it's been glorious.
We haven't bothered with maintenance on our Microsoft products because we don't want to upgrade. Not within 3-4 years. Our standards so far have been
- Windows NT + Office 97,
- then Windows XP + Office 2003
- and now Windows 7 + Office 2010.
Because we update so infrequently (and all at once), it's easier to simply purchase new computers once every four years and buy the software at the same time. It's not like you save anything much on the volume licensing -- in fact, it's quite the opposite, buying a new licence every four years is much cheaper than paying maintenance on one for four. Plus you get an extra (old) licence out of the deal.
The Changing Microsoft Licensing Model
Unfortunately now, the Microsoft world has changed.
Now they're making their products harder to purchase in retail stores and they're expecting to have them linked to hotmail/exchange accounts. This is all well and good if you've got a consistent set of employees who all have those accounts but if your workforce fluctuates (for example contractors on lots of short projects) then it's quite painful.
I've successfully avoided Microsoft Open Licensing since it was first introduced except for a few small occasions. All of these were incredibly painful and time-consuming. In one case, we attracted the attention of Microsoft themselves who announced that we had to do an internal IT audit. We were fully in compliance, in fact, we were considerably over-compliant but I still had to gather every single licence and fill out tons of paperwork. It was a very costly exercise in terms of staff time and it certainly cooled us off on the whole "working with Microsoft" thing.
I really have to wonder why an organisation like Microsoft has the power to demand audits like that.
The worst sign-up process in the World.
So, after years of successful avoidance, we now find ourselves in the position of having to do the whole Open Licence thing. We're using a Microsoft Business Partner so you'd assume that this would smooth things over -- it doesn't.
Here are some of the highlights;
- I've been waiting four business days for the licensing to come through.
- The Microsoft site is not compatible with browsers other than Internet Explorer
- Partway through the process the browser throws an error and tells me that I need an "InPrivate" session -- a decent browser would simply switch to one.
- A typical attempt involves me having to sign on at least five times.
- I keep having to verify codes to protect my account (despite turning it off several times).
- The Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center is unintuitive (and useless)
- The whole process ends with a "Sorry" Error telling me that I have to switch to an InPrivate window even though it's already InPrivate.
I used to complain about the usability of IBM's Passport advantage site but it leaves the Microsoft one for dead.
On the plus side, since I'm without office at the moment, I've been using Google Drive. I could have used Libre Office but I didn't want to install anything. I'm pretty impressed, apart from the amazing signup process (login with your google account which takes 5 minutes to create), the product is free.
I've used it before for home purposes but this is the first time I've thrown real-world work documents from Word, Excel and Powerpoint at it. I'm very impressed. It's handled everything I've thrown at it without a hitch and I'm exchanging documents with my colleagues and they haven't noticed a thing.
I really have to question the business wisdom of continuing to use Microsoft products at all but that's a discussion for later - in the meantime, if Microsoft doesn't sort themselves out, at least I have other tools that I can rely upon.