Ballmer feels backlash over Microsoft's myriad licences

Steve Ballmer

British businesses vent their frustration to Steve Ballmer over Microsoft licensing

Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer felt the brunt of British business frustration over Microsoft's licensing regime at an event in London today.

During a Q&A session with a hand-picked selection of Microsoft's corporate customers, Ballmer was asked whether he planned to do anything to simplify Microsoft's licensing schemes, which are regularly criticised for being over-complex.

The questioner said that he sometimes felt like Microsoft's licensing enforcers attempted to "trip people up" with the small print on contracts, a statement that was met with several calls of "hear, hear" and a round of applause.

Ballmer attempted to laugh off the question, but said the company wouldn't be making any radical changes. "I don't anticipate a big round of simplifying our licences," Ballmer said. "Every time you simplify something you get rid of something."

"A lot of the footnotes and fineprint are there to reduce someone's costs. We're trying to help people use products the way we intended," he added.

Last time, we succeeded on simplification and our customer satisfaction figures plummeted for two years. We don't want to do that again

Ballmer said that businesses regularly requested simpler SQL Server licences, which can currently be purchased on either a per processor or per Client Access License (CAL) basis. The Microsoft boss said the company has often been asked to pick one or the other, but that "the customer always finds the one that's cheapest for them."

Ballmer did concede that "I'm sure we have fineprint we don't need", and invited attendees to email him personally with specific examples, but stopped short of offering any concessions.

He said the company's last attempt to streamline the licences backfired. "Last time, we succeeded on simplification and our customer satisfaction figures plummeted for two years," he said. "We don't want to do that again".

Good vibrations?

The event was arranged to coincide with the forthcoming launch of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, and the Microsoft boss was once again put on the spot when he was asked whether he thought Windows 7 would prove to be more popular with businesses than Vista.

"As much of our installed base moved from XP to Vista as moved to XP from its predecessor," Ballmer hit back.

"There was certainly more vibrations in the marketplace around Vista than I'd hope to see around Windows 7," Ballmer added to laughter in the audience.

"My hope is we'll be able to, in the first three to six months of Windows 7 availability, persuade you that any new PC should come with Windows 7. It would be a shame to see people acquire XP machines in 2010."

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