The Microsoft police have an almost mythological status in the minds of techies everywhere.  They have long been imagined to be superhuman beings bent on tricking network engineers and CIOs into saying one wrong word and forcing them to pay huge penalties and probably lose their jobs.  This has been the perception, and it turns out that it’s pretty much true…all except the superhuman part.  Subhuman might be a better descriptor.  The truth is that Microsoft has historically performed about twice the number of software audits as other major players such as Apple, Oracle, Symantec, etc.  Since late 2012, they have significantly stepped up the number of Software Asset Management (SAM) assessments and they are expected to do so even more in 2014.  With all the ill-feelings surrounding Microsoft these days, one has to wonder why they would choose to build a Gestapoistic (I just made that word up) persona.

Internal Microsoft documents leave little room for speculation as to the reason.  Microsoft wants your money.  Windows 8 isn’t selling well.  Surface tablets are nice, but they aren’t selling well.  Office 2013 isn’t doing so hot either.  A huge multinational corporation, like Microsoft, can barely manage to stay afloat on a year known for big Xbox sales.  In truth, Microsoft is cashing in on Office 365, Azure and other cloud applications/platforms, but they still want your money; and they’re determined to get it.  I think all of us who use Microsoft products recognize that we have an obligation to pay for them and most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it any other way.  So if we’ve all paid for our products, what’s the problem?

Microsoft Memo

The problem is that even Microsoft doesn’t understand their own ridiculous, ever-changing licensing schemes.  If you ask any two Microsoft licensing experts how to properly license your Microsoft SharePoint Server environment, you’re guaranteed to get at least three distinctly different answers.  You read that right, one of those guys will give you two different answers in the same conversation.  It turns out that the same is true of the Microstapo (give me a minute, I’ll make one stick).  In several widely publicized cases, Microsoft auditors were found to be knowingly citing companies for licensing breaches that didn’t exist while pushing those companies to make very costly licensing purchases.  The Gestaposoft (this might just get me audited) tactics also come into question.  In June, 2013, one of the largest insurance companies in Guatemala sued Microsoft for raiding their offices and attempting to shake them down to the tune of $70,000 or risk confiscation of all of the their computer hardware.

This article is to serve warning that Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) have targeted small and medium-size businesses for SAM assessments.  If you receive a letter from Microsoft that resembles the one below or in any way refers to your software agreements, do not ignore it.  Acting quickly and decisively can save you a considerable amount of money.  The good news is that Microsoft isn’t likely to unleash the involuntary audit, the Legal Contract and Compliance Audit, unless it has good reason to believe that you are out of compliance.  Not responding to the SAM engagement is a good way to get yourself on this list.  There are lots of things that you can do to protect yourself and go into the otherwise lopsided “negotiation” from a position of strength.  A good start would be to give Promethius a call at 317-733-2388 the day you get your letter.  An even better start might be to make the call before you get your letter.