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Microsoft bows to Japanese users

Users of the Microsoft Office desktop application suite in Japan will get a special break on licenses, according to the company.

Japanese users of the Microsoft Office application suite will get a special break on licenses, Microsoft confirmed today.

After several large Japanese companies complained about the end of Microsoft's plan to end concurrent-use licensing of Office, the software giant said it would extend the opportunity to use such licenses. The extension applies to Japan only, according to a Microsoft executive.

With concurrent usage, a company can spread a license across its user base without having to buy a license for each desktop. For example, if a company has 10,000 users but estimates that only 5,000 will ever use Office simultaneously, that company can buy a 5,000-user license. To prove it isn't cheating, a company also must deploy monitoring software that tracks the number of users and makes sure all users are within the same time zone, a restriction Microsoft placed on the licenses two years ago.

Microsoft has said in the past that it is phasing out concurrent licensing because demand for it has dropped nearly to zero. But critics charge that Microsoft has set unreasonable criteria and price levels on the license, known formally as "Upgrade Advantage Plus."

Microsoft played down the cause-and-effect of the user complaints.

"There were users who stood up [to complain], but the extension had already been in the works for six months," Microsoft program manager Troy Oldham said. "To say that the user group forced our hand isn't very accurate."

However, the companies involved in the protest have quite a bit of purchasing power. Included in the KeyServer user group--200 companies that all use the same monitoring software--are Ricoh, Hitachi, Taisei Construction, the Nomura Research Institute, and divisions of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

Oldham stressed that the extension is for Japan only: "We have no intention to alter our position in any other parts of the world."

Educational institutions, which often require flexible licensing options, have also protested the end of concurrency.

Microsoft said last year that concurrent-license purchases would effectively end on December 1, 1997. Companies with existing concurrent licenses would have until the end of their license agreements to switch to a different licensing model. Many of those agreements expired on January 1, and many more will expire at the end of March.

The Japan-only extension adds further complication to what is already a tangled scenario. With the reprieve, Japanese customers will be able to buy software under a concurrent license until June 1. Such licenses are valid for two years, meaning Japanese companies could run Office concurrently into the year 2000. But customers with existing concurrent licenses will not be able to renew those licenses when they expire.