Bittersweet October 2006 ActionPack Update

The Good News – Microsoft Action Pack Subscription (MAPS)I’m happy to see that SBS 2003 R2 has finally made it into the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription this month. 

The Bad News – It’s disappointing that moving forward Microsoft has chosen only include the Windows XP Professional upgrade instead of the full version of XP Professional. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m ABSOLUTELY in favor of fighting software piracy.  And the word on the street is that the move to only include upgrades instead of full versions of operating systems is designed to fight the bad guys pirating Windows.  Considering that Vista is just around the corner, it’s pretty smart to slip this in before the launch to avoid any more bad Vista press.  Unfortunately this wounds two birds with one stone – the pirates and the legitimate partners.

Now legitimate Partners who build their own PCs for internal use will have to purchase copies of XP Home for each box, and then upgrade them to Pro using the Action Pack.  So that’s up to an $870 investment ($87 per XP Home PC x 10 XP Pro upgrades in the Action Pack) that will a) tie up Partner capitol, b) trickle down to Microsoft in additional XP Home sales, and c) supposedly help curb piracy.

Who can get the Microsoft Action Pack in the first place?  According the Microsoft Partner website:

“The Microsoft Action Pack Subscription is available exclusively to consultants, value-added resellers, value-added providers, system integrators, developers, system builders, hosts, and service providers who are enrolled as Registered Members in the Microsoft Partner Program and who distribute or influence the acquisition of Microsoft software and Microsoft-based solutions by end customers.”

And where is it written online how Microsoft decides exactly what the “service providers… who distribute or influence the acquisition of Microsoft software” qualifications are?  Does a white shirt & black tie Geek Squad employee count?  Does a blue shirt Best Buy employee in the computer department?  What if they do consulting on the side?

My point is, this ham-handed move will immediately cost Microsoft Partners more money the next time they have a new hire, and it will ultimately cost Microsoft more money too.  How?  Ignoring the obvious open-source discussion, if Microsoft is serious about curbing MAPS piracy, after they shake out most of the ‘fakers’ with this move, the next step is they’re going to have to enforce those compliance audits that you agreed to when you signed up as a Microsoft Partner.  Remember those?  The ones saying that when you would document what you’ve done with the software and for 3 years afterwards they can come to your business with 48 hours notice and inspect you?  Unless of course they already thought you were pirating software, and then they didn’t need to give you any notice.  No?  Let me refresh your memory:

“Microsoft Partner Program Agreement

5.   Verifying compliance. You must keep all usual and proper books and records relating to your performance of this agreement.  This standard takes into account the accounting rules, regulations, authoritative pronouncements, principles and practices accepted in your jurisdiction.  At a minimum, you must keep documents related to acquisition, delivery and destruction of licensed software and hardware. You must keep these documents during the term, and for 3 years after this agreement ends. During this same period, our audit team may conduct audits of your applicable books, records, operations, processes and facilities during any selected period to verify your compliance with the terms of this agreement, as described further in the guide. Except for audits related to counterfeit software and hardware, we will give you 48 hours’ notice of the audit.  Audits related to counterfeit software and hardware do not require prior notice.  You will promptly correct any errors and omissions disclosed by the audits.  We reserve the right to validate all customer references supplied by you in accordance with the program requirements.

Any audit will be conducted during your normal business hours and in a manner that does not interfere unreasonably with your normal business activities. You will provide us with access to all applicable books, records, operations, processes and facilities that we may need to review to complete a proper and thorough audit. If an audit is conducted with notice, you will have all applicable books, records and operations available to us at the beginning of the audit. You will pay us the costs for the audit if an audit uncovers a terminable breach of this agreement as defined in section 8.3 or a discrepancy of 2% or more in your use of license benefits during the applicable audit period. If the audit team makes any commercially reasonable recommendations to you on record keeping, you will implement the recommendations within a mutually agreeable timeframe.”

Audits cost money, for everyone.  But does that mean that Microsoft won’t audit you.  Who knows?  But even if you, as a Partner, decide not to renew your Action Pack and you get that cease-and-desist letter, you’d better document removing that software and keep that documentation for 3 years.  Or if you do renew your Action Pack and decide to retire that home made Pentium III in the reception area, are you allowed to move that MAPS copy of XP Pro to a different box?  You’d better find out, and document it that too. 

Here’s a better idea – Instead of kneecapping the single biggest benefit Registered Partners have, how about raising the bar for becoming a Registered Partner? Or at least only getting the Action Pack if you are a SBSC or above?  Give the regular Registered Partners / Members 180-day demos so they can still learn the software and ultimately graduate to SBSC.  

Microsoft stock has been slowly climbing back from the nosedive it took in April on the earnings announcement.  And I know you guys have got to answer to the stock holders.  Squashing piracy + launching Vista + launching Office 2007 is the correct formula for raising share prices.  We all know that the MAPS move will only slow the pirates down – it won’t stop them.  So please don’t alienate the Partner Channel before your products have even left escrow. 

I want to close with a quote from Allison Watson at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2006:

“I talked to you about building a People-Ready Business, having the skills to deliver, having the right conversations, having compelling conversations, showing it off and building your partner network. But there’s something I haven’t hardly spoken about at all. And, you know it’s really, really, really important to driving our business next year. With the release of Microsoft Office and Microsoft [Windows] Vista, there’s over 600 million users of these products in our marketplaces today. How and who is going to be the first to show them the power of this technology? It will be us. It’s our imperative to become the first, best users of this technology.” – Allison Watson 

The Registered, SBSCs, Certified & Gold Partners are the sales force of those products. 

So Microsoft, please focus on weeding out the MAPS posers and the pirates, and leave the legitimate Partners alone.  We’ve got enough to deal with already without someone pulling tools out of the toolbox or driving up op-ex.  Raise the bar, put in full versions of operating systems, and put some hosted E-Learning certificates in the Action Pack now that you’ve killed MELL.  If you’d give us the tools and the training we need to do our job we’d really appreciate it, and so would your stockholders.

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