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Microsoft to audit your company's software licenses

Under new U.K. campaign, those who refuse audit risk having their details handed to the British Software Alliance.

Microsoft could face a user revolt as it launches a campaign in the United Kingdom to get midrange companies to submit to a software audit.

Those who refuse risk having their details being handed to the Business Software Alliance, which will execute follow-up interviews that could result in fines and other penalties.

The company revealed on Monday that it is launching the campaign, which is aimed at companies that have not already joined similar licensing schemes such as the controversial Windows Genuine Advantage.

According to Ram Dhaliwal, licensing program manager for Microsoft UK, the process will involve sending out questionnaires to all of Microsoft's midrange customers that are not part of one of Microsoft's licensing schemes and that are of a certain size.

"We are looking at companies with around 350 licenses," Dhaliwal said. "We are dealing with big companies and the smallest companies in other areas."

According to Dhaliwal, Microsoft wants to take "what (its customers) are using, and what they have paid for" and match them together. This would show if a customer had more employees using a piece of software than they have paid for, or if some user licenses were going unused.

This process normally falls under the heading of Software Asset Management (SAM) but, as Dhaliwal explained, the company has come up with another name. "We are calling this Software Audit and Asset Management or SAAM," he said.

Once Microsoft receives the information it can then "get a view" of customers, Dhaliwal said. He insisted that Microsoft wasn't simply planning to use this view to see ways of collecting more license revenue from companies.

"Where customers have gone through the audit process, we find that almost 30 percent will discover that they are overpaying for licenses that are unused. They typically order something and pay for it, and then find they do not have as many users as they thought they could," said Dhaliwal.

But users that have underpaid would be expected to pay for the extra licenses they are found to need, Dhaliwal admitted.

Users who choose to ignore Microsoft's questionnaires face a three-stage process leading up to possible prosecution by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Dhaliwal said.

After being given two weeks to return their completed questionnaires, Microsoft would again contact users to remind them. If there is still no response, there would be an e-mail warning that the company faced possible penalties, he said.

After five days, it there was still no response, the matter would be handed over to the BSA.

"I see this process as being very transparent," Dhaliwal said. "We know from our records what people have, we want to know what they use and then match the two together. That's all. It is just part of the SAAM process."

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.