I’ve just returned home from San Francisco where I was attending the Oracle Openworld 2011 (#OOW11) event. Overall it's a good event, although, as usual, a bit frustrating. Instead of examples of how customers are using its products to transform their businesses, the Oracle keynotes always descend into technical detail, with too little vision and too many unimpressive product demonstrations and ‘paid programming’ infomercials (if I had wanted to listen to Cisco, Dell, and EMC plugging their products, I’d have gone to their events).

When, a month ago, I accepted Oracle’s invitation to attend #OOW11, I thought I’d be able to escape the oncoming British autumn for some California sunshine and watch some Redsox playoffs games on TV. Well not only did the Sox’s form plummet in September like a stock market index, but Northern California turned out to be 20° colder than London. But despite that, and the all-day Sunday trip to get to the event, one can’t help being impressed by the attendee buzz and by the logistical achievement, with over 45,000 attendees accommodated around the Bay Area and bussed in and out every day to the conference location. Luckily, Oracle looks after its analyst guests very well, so we were within walking distance at the excellent Intercontinental Hotel.

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As soon as you think you understand software companies’ policies on virtualization, a new problem appears that makes you tear your hair out and scratch your now-bald head. This month’s conundrum is whether or not VMware’s ThinApp product breaches your Microsoft Windows license agreement:

  • VMware promotes this product with the headline “Extend the Life of Legacy Applications, Including IE 6 Applications, with Windows 7 Support.” http://www.vmware.com/products/thinapp/overview.html
  • However, Microsoft, via its knowledge base, claims that “Running multiple versions of Windows Internet Explorer, or portions of Windows Internet Explorer, on a single instance of Windows is an unlicensed and unsupported solution.” http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2020599/en-us#top
  • VMware doesn’t warn customers that ThinApp could cause them Microsoft licensing problems, but neither does it claim that it is legal. It merely advises customers to check with Microsoft.

So who is right, and what should you do if you want to upgrade to Windows 7 but have applications that only run in IE 6? It may be OK for Microsoft to discourage a virtualization solution such as ThinApp on technical grounds, but it hasn’t publicly justified its claim that it represents unlicensed usage. You can run up to 4 local virtual images on each device that you’ve covered with software assurance (SA), and I don’t see any reasonable grounds for differentiating commercially between a full OS instance and ThinApp’s embedded instance. I’m disappointed that Microsoft is blocking a VMware solution to a problem that will delay Windows 7 adoption.

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As promised in a previous blog post: Which Software Licensing Policy Is The Unfairest Of Them All? , we've launched a survey to find out what sourcing and vendor management professionals think about some common software licensing policies. This isn't about bashing powerful software companies, but about building a consensus behind a campaign to bring software licensing rules up to date – i.e. protection of innocent buyers, rather than regime change. I've narrowed an initial list of 30 questionable policies down to this Foul Fifteen of candidates for the (un)coveted "Unfairest" award:

1. Double charging for external users

2. Prohibiting or overcharging for anonymous users

3. Maintenance on shelfware

4. Counting cores instead of processors

5. Counting all processors in a server, even if partitioned

6. Upfront license purchase only, not phased in line with project milestones

7. Maintenance repricing

8. Insisting on purchase of all licenses before implementation starts

9. Product enhancements packaged as new SKU’s

10. Licensing by deployment, even if unused

11. Charging for use of modules that customers cannot control or track

12. Retaining right to change licensing policies at any time

13. Multiplexing – definition is unclear or too wide

14. Pricing and contract terms are confidential

15. Charging for bug fixes

Here's a link to our survey, which includes more detail on the candidate policies: http://deploy.ztelligence.com/start/index.jsp?PIN=16259VJWP8QNZ

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Early next year I'm going to ask Sourcing & Vendor Management professionals to vote on which software companies' licensing policies they most resent as Unfair. Fairness is a subjective quality, but it seems to me that some policies penalize customers for circumstances beyond their control that are unrelated to the value they are getting from the software. Others have serious consequences that may not have been apparent to the buyer when he agreed to the contract. Fair software pricing charges some companies more than others, but in a logical, transparent way that is related to value. Jim Hagemann Snabe (SAP's co-CEO) explained software pricing best practice extremely well in this recent interview with Computerweekly.com's Warwick Ashford:

"Q: What is SAP doing to meet user demand for greater clarity on licensing and pricing?"

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