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Big Box Retailers and Microsoft Licensing April 13, 2009

Posted by Jim Locke in IT Business.

Recently, an accounting firm I do business with needed a copy of Microsoft Office installed on one of their computers immediately. As they could not wait a day for me to have a copy delivered, they asked me what version they should pick up from their local big box retailer. I told them that they needed a copy of Microsoft Office Small Business Edition and explained to them that they should not purchase a copy of Office Home & Student Edition as it is “not for commercial use”.

Of course, you know what happened. The client returned with a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition. He indicated that the retailer told him that was all he needed. When I pointed out that the product did not include Outlook showed him the label on the box indicating that the product was not for commercial use, he was more than a little upset, as he had to trek back to the store and purchase Office SBE.

So this weekend, I tried a little experiment. I went to a local big box retailer and approached a “Windows Guru” walking the floor. Since he was wearing a Microsoft logo shirt I asked who he was employed by, Microsoft or the retailer. He indicated that he was employed by Microsoft. I then explained that I had a local small business and was looking for a copy of Office Home and Student Edition. 

However, before he fetched me a copy, I asked about him about the fact that the box indicated that it was “not for commercial use”. He indicated that as long as it was MY business and I owned the computers, I did not need to buy a different version of Office and added that I could install this version on up to three computers.

When I asked him to explain who the “commercial use” provision was intended for, he explained that it was for “big companies” that were “incorporated” or had a business license. (Huh? Isn’t that most businesses?).

At this point, I was more than a little upset and divulged that I was a Microsoft Partner and that I had been trained and coached on Microsoft Licensing policy. I  indicated that at one point Microsoft had even advised some of their MCP’s and MCSE’s that they could lose their certification if they knowingly installed inappropriate software that violated Microsoft’s licensing policy.

The “Windows Guru” said he was aware of this and understood my frustration(What else could he say?). Similarly, he agreed that if my business was incorporated in any way or had a business license, I was using Office for “commercial use”.

I want to be clear that I am not interested in policing anyone. However, if Microsoft is going to hold me to one standard and a big box reseller to another one, that’s just not right. What’s the point of all of Eric Ligman’s hard work on explaining licensing to SMB resellers, if it is handled like this?

So, what I really want to know is what your experience has been? Post your comments here or email them to me. You may even want to take a trip to your local big box reseller and see what results you get.  If your experience is like mine, forward a summary of it to me. I will collect them and forward them on to Eric Ligman or another appropriate person at Microsoft and ask for some sort of explanation.



1. mike renna - April 13, 2009

push comes to shove… microsoft will say that guy was mistaken and has been retrained. Whether it’s his ignorance or answers he was directed to give, no business should need Eric or anyone else to write dissertations about version (license) A vs. B. Most of us in the industry have little or no clue (in my case!) about A vs. B. Let alone a user. Sure, they are free to set the rules the way they want and we are free to buy a competitor’s product if we don’t want to play by their rules. But I don’t see what they gain by making the rules so hard to understand.

I guess it’s a bit of job security for Eric and their type. And for us (but even we can be wrong). Like accountants and taxes – the laws are so F___ up. You can do taxes on your own and pay X. You can pay an accountant, he’ll be able to use loopholes and you pay Y.

Is it right that on your own you pay X? You are happy to pay Y + accountant fee if it’s still less than X.

But I really can’t believe Microsoft is hiring someone to be in the store. The retailer is likely getting some chunk of money to subsidize a guru’s (aka – a kid) salary or just to offset costs.

Back to your original question – I get wildly different answers as to who can use the home version. None in writing and no one will be there with me when / if the SBA comes knocking. It’s a business decision – what’s the risk / cost of using home version in a business vs. the other box next to that one that’s lots more money.

I do like that the heading of the application windows say ‘not for commercial use’. A backup service vendor was giving a demo to a room and the laptop was hooked to a projector and right on the top, it said ‘not for commerial use’. But businesses, for good or bad will buy a laptop at retail, it comes with the demo of home & student… and no way to convert to the business version and no warning (other than that heading) that if you are a business, it’s not for you.

2. Kevin Tobey - April 13, 2009

I met with a prospect who had recently purchased a retail license of office from some retail source unknown to me. The prospect insisted that they were told by the retailer that they could install it on up to 3 PC’s. It makes it pretty difficult for me to sell open licensing which I was trying to do when go up against a 3 for 1 deal like that.

3. Russ - April 13, 2009

Yes, this happens all the time.
What’s worse is when the client OPENS the software, then they have to eat it.

Problem is is that People see the price difference and say wow Cheaper.

And the $7.00/hr Microsoft Trained salesperson tells them what’s up.
And they do this…

Especially when the retail and SA Price and they don’t understand the Difference (Yes I could explain SA to them, But as you know when Microsoft has classes on SA it’s over a 1hr class,

Small Businesess Don’t have 1HR to listen to sales pitches. (And they don’t want to listen.

I can always use the basic reasons for SA, but then that’s not enough for them to jump $$$. The lucky ones that will let me TALK to them I can get them to SA, But of course I get to EAT this Time!

Talking to them as I will not make my billable time selling them SA licenses. (I’ve even lost a client because some idiot convinced them they don’t need SA and it’s just a way for Bill to get more money from them.)

What I really Wish is there was a easy upgrade path (CHEAP) from people who buy this to go to SA.

Getting a Business to go SA IMO is the best way for license tracking etc.

Yet because of These Shops They don’t even know what SA is or do they sell it.

I also wish that all MS products required Registration on eOpen License, because Small business are the worset on saving CD’s and tracking licenses. (Sure the Individual People will not do this, but companies that understand business, will do it.)

I do like the ability for Students to get this version, however I wish there was a upgrade site to pay and download (once) a version to upgrade them.

Then you can remove the Retailiers from making mistakes all the time like they do. (And clients having to EAT things because the Retailier is STUPID)

4. Chris Smith - April 13, 2009

The issue comes doewn to dollars and “sense”! It doesn’t make sense to most smal lbusiness owners that they need to pay 7-8 times more than the Home and Student version when most don’t want or need Outlook and need Word, and Excel. Microsoft needs to thjink about that when they are putting together their “packages” A majority of small business users (and I use “small” as the sub 20 user market) are using web based email. They rarely use powerpoint and need word processing and spreadsheet capabilities. These companies first of all buy Windows based machines with Home OS and then get upset when they need to upgrade the OS, and the applications when they want a new server.

While this is a selling opportunity for the consultant, it is a nightmare and prolongs the sale and installation of SBS to the smallest of the SBS community. I wonder what will happen when MSFT makes everyone go the cloud and get subscriptions? Will they make it cost effective for the consumer? Or will greed rule the day?

THe thinking behind Home and Student was to combat piracy. Why not make it more affordable so MSFT gets a few dollars for every 3 computers, instead of one Office Sale and “sharing among 5-7 computers. I understand that issue, however they caused a problem at the lower end of the business spectrum by doing this.

FIrst you should avoid sending any customer to these retailers if possible – they only carry the consumer versions of the OS and the applications. Explain to your customers if they want the best support and seamless integrationt that they need to buy from you, or pay the upgrade differences. I always try to MOLP a desktop when I get a new customer. If MSFT made this more affordable for everyone

5. Scott B - April 13, 2009

Office Next is going to have a free web advertised supported version?

6. Donny@ITK - April 13, 2009

I totally agree, I was just in a meeting with a client who asked me, why do I have to pay so much for MS Office Small Business licenses from you when I can get them on the Web for around $150.

They didn’t have the time for me to spent an hour explaining the ‘value’ of Open Value licenses and Software Assurance; or the difference between OEM, Retail, and the other licensing models.

I like Russ’ idea of having an easy upgrade/version change path for all license types and some registration mechanism to enable us to know what licenses were purchased by a customer and when. Many of my clients like his don’t necessarily save the CDs (they try, but after so many years it gets lost).

7. mv - April 14, 2009

I had a client ask me to install a ‘academic only’ copy that the Retailer told him was OK for his business. He had purchased this after I told him home and student did not include Outlook and he was told this was OK. He ended up taking it back, but was a frustrating experience for both of us.

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