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Microsoft aims to clarify licensing terms

The Redmond, Wash., giant isn't changing the rules for how businesses license its software, but it is trying to make them easier to understand.

Aiming to make its complex product-licensing terms a bit clearer, Microsoft said it will group its products into separate categories based on how the products are licensed and on what rights are offered.

The move, effective July 1, is part of Microsoft's regular update of its licensing program. The software maker said it is not changing the licensing terms associated with any of its software, but instead is trying to make those terms more understandable to customers.

"What customers told us is they are really confused," said Sunny Charlebois, a product manager in Microsoft's worldwide licensing and pricing unit. Charlebois said Microsoft's previous outline of various products and their usage rules was more than 100 pages. "It was legalese; it was very difficult to understand."

By grouping all of its 70 or so products into nine categories, Microsoft expects that it can cut the length of the "product use rights" treatise in half. Some software, for example, is licensed per server, while other programs are licensed per server processor. Still others require a fee for each desktop that connects, a so-called client access license (CAL).

While grouping its existing products, Microsoft also will aim to put future products into one of the nine areas rather than create new categories. But even with the latest move, Microsoft said it still has a long way to go before its licensing program might be characterized as simple.

"Yes, we have a lot of work to do," Charlebois said.

Microsoft makes minor changes to its licensing program on a quarterly basis. Last September, for example, the company made permanent a program that allows customers to upgrade their software license from standard-edition status to enterprise-edition status without having to buy a completely new license for that product.

Also in September, Microsoft launched a product use rights Web page, making information that had been available only in a copy-protected document more easily accessible.