Today Microsoft announced via email that they will be closing their TechNet subscription offering in favour of 180-evaluations and using the Azure cloud. A final subscription can be purchased before 31 August 2013, 12 months after which entitlements will expire.
There is no doubt for many people TechNet has been a way to get hold of normally expensive Microsoft software and running it in what is essentially a production environment. Microsoft also point to the issue of piracy as licences are sold on with illegal copies of the software. I’m sure that this does happen in the market; software pirates will copy anything that makes them money, after all.
However in my business, access to evaluation/test software is essential. In the last 12 months I have built an entire SharePoint test environment, a backup environment and both a Hyper-V and VMware based setup to test automated server builds for both Windows and Linux. None of these requirements could be delivered in the cloud where I need to validate fibre channel storage, physical tape devices and specific network configurations with DHCP and PXE/WDS servers on bespoke VLANs. Purchasing permanent licences would make the process financially inviable as well as massively cumbersome, adding and retracting licences for builds as they were created and destroyed. In these instances “The Cloud” doesn’t allow me to test physical devices that can’t be emulated.
One of the reasons Windows has been such as success over the years has been the sheer accessibility of the platform, with much of the knowledge based on the desktop versions that provide the basis of understanding for moving up to the server systems. However we’ve seen the rise of Open Source and Linux, which has moved from a curiosity ten years ago to a mainstream Enterprise platform today. On the desktop, probably the only thing holding users back from using Open Source software is compatibility with the Office format for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Open Source equivalents of these daily tools just aren’t there yet. But for many home users who need basic editing software, Open Source could be a great choice. The disaster of Windows 8 and the Metro interface may well make many users think of other alternatives. At this point I could choose to mention Mac OSX, but Apple still has a niche part of the market and isn’t likely to take over huge corporate accounts due to the high cost of the hardware.
Open Source software relies on charging for support and Microsoft certainly do well out of that side of their business. With free software available, an army of sysadmins can practice on CentOS, Ubuntu and all the other Linux distributions without concern to licensing restrictions. Microsoft has two choices; continue with the currently licensing model and continue to restrict access to their products, which will be unlikely to deter the pirates, or adopt a more Open Source-like model and charge only for support. If they leave this decision too long, the goose that lays the golden eggs may well die of old age.