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Users protest new Office licensing

User groups are beginning to make noise about Microsoft's decision to discontinue a licensing option for its Office application suite.

User groups are beginning to make noise about Microsoft's decision to discontinue a licensing option for its Office application suite.

As reported last month, Microsoft (MSFT) on December 1 effectively ended concurrent-use licenses of Office, an option that allowed a company to 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.

A group of 200 Japanese corporations, all of which use a specific type of monitoring software, have voiced their disapproval of Microsoft's new policy. Microsoft has said in the past that it is discontinuing the concurrent licensing option because demand for it has dropped nearly to zero.

"Microsoft said that the program was not being sold much, but we found that it tried not to promote the program all over the world," said KeyServer User Group managing director Kirk Ura. "Their salesmen are not well-informed about the concurrent-use license."

As the president of Quality Software, a reseller of KeyServer monitoring software in Japan, Ura admits he has a vested interest in the continuation of concurrent usage.

"We're the ones who promote concurrent-use licenses [in Japan]," he said. "They're increasing in popularity right now because we let users know that they exist."

Approximately 50 of the 200 member companies of the KeyServer group have concurrent licenses for Office, according to Ura. Those companies include Ricoh, Hitachi, Taisei Construction, the Nomura Research Institute, and divisions of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

The Japanese user group is not the only one complaining. At a December meeting of college computing professionals, IT managers from several college campuses criticized a Microsoft representative over the end of concurrent usage, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. College administrators complained that concurrent use was necessary on campus because students aren't tied to one desktop and need to access applications from the dorm, the library, and the classroom, the article reported.

Aleisa Spain, Microsoft's director of higher education marketing, told the meeting that the decision to end concurrent licensing was based on business-customer demand for simpler licensing schemes, and was not a way to gain more revenue for Microsoft.

"We are moving toward a per-PC licensing model in all industries, education included," Spain told the meeting, according to the Chronicle article.

Spain and other Microsoft officials were not immediately available for comment.

Until now, reaction has been mixed over the news. One industry analyst who tracks the application suite market hasn't seen a ground swell of opposition to the Microsoft policy.

"People might be taking advantage of Microsoft and their current state of siege to negotiate, but I don't think this is a big issue," said Dan Lavin of research firm Dataquest.

Microsoft competitor Corel, which makes the WordPerfect application suite, also has stepped up efforts to win over dissatisfied users--but it is still too early to tell how many users have actually jumped the Microsoft ship, a Corel sales manager told NEWS.COM earlier this month.