Microsoft Lambasted Over Windows 7 Upgrades

At issue is Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program, which runs until the Oct. 22 Windows 7 launch date and gives purchasers of new Vista PCs a free upgrade to Windows 7. Microsoft ran a similar technology guarantee program in the run-up to Vista's launch, but limited that promotion to 5 PCs, so the company is actually giving customers a better offer this time around.

Nonetheless, late last week Gartner analyst Michael Silver called out Microsoft for not publicizing the 25-PC Windows 7 upgrade limit and said the decision could cause businesses to put PC buying decisions on hold. Silver also asserted that Microsoft sets these types of programs limitations to get customers to sign enterprise agreements, enroll in Software Assurance or buy Windows 7 upgrades.

Despite Silver's claims, solution providers in the small business space don't expect the 25-PC limit to present much of a barrier for their customers. "Whenever you tie the word free in any program you're bound to get people that complain that free isn't enough," said Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Charlotte, N.C.-based solution provider. "This will provide a viable upgrade path for the majority of small and medium businesses."

Software Assurance lets customers upgrade to new software versions released during the term of their contract with Microsoft and spread payments over a three-year period. SA is included with Microsoft's Enterprise Agreement, a volume licensing program for organizations with 250 or more desktop PCs. Microsoft has been trying to add value to SA, and ties some of its virtualization technologies to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, which can only be obtained through SA.

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Many larger businesses already have SA agreements that provide them with upgrades to Windows 7 Enterprise and those that don't can purchase Software Assurance for new PCs to qualify for an upgrade, a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email. Microsoft is also giving companies that buy new PCs 180 days to buy Software Assurance, compared to 90 days previously, and that will give companies a less expensive upgrade path to Windows 7.

Chris Rue, CEO of Black Warrior Technology, a Northport, Ala.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, says customers that want to upgrade to Windows 7 will find ways to justify the cost. However, Rue notes that SA has been a sticking point for customers who feel it's too much of a gamble.

"It's difficult to discuss the value proposition of SA with customers, especially smaller ones," said Rue. "The tools that are integrated with SA make sense for larger companies, but if there are no major upgrades in three years' time, you've basically spent money for nothing. That's not something that many companies will accept even when times are good."