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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.