GripeLine by ED

Torture By MSDN

As might be expected, the gripes about Microsoft and its new product offerings centered on Windows 8 are mounting up. Before we start working our way through those, however, I'd like to relate one reader's experience with the seemingly simple task of renewing his MSDN subscription, as it's a story that may help us put some of the other issues we'll be discussing in proper perspective.

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The reader first wrote me in December after seeing my "Rough Rollout for Redmond" story. "Boy, I sure shared your recent column on the poor customer trying to renew their software licenses with my organization's purchasing staff, Dell staff, and Microsoft MSDN program administration staff," the reader wrote. "We are at the end of a six-plus week effort to figure out and straighten out the renewal of my Universal MSDN subscription, which I have had for years. Trying to get it renewed and correctly listed under our enterprise license agreement turned out to be one of the most frustrating, laugh-riot experiences in purchasing I have ever been through."

The comedy of errors began when the reader tried ordering his MSDN renewal through Dell, which serves as the Microsoft reseller under his organization's volume license agreement. "For years I have been getting the full library of servers, toolkits, etc. that come with the Universal subscription," the reader wrote. "Dell was quoting me $750 for Visual Studio Professional Edition, which is not the equivalent of what I've been getting under my expiring MSDN subscription. According to this page, this edition doesn't even include the MSDN Library, which is unbelievable since you need that to install Visual Studio. It is just the basic package for coding languages, with a developer edition of SQL server only."

The reader found that a premium MSDN "Team Edition" subscription package would provide him the equivalent tools that he was getting on his old subscription, but the quote on renewal pricing his Dell rep gave him for it almost gave him a heart attack. "I can get a three-year license to the Developer Team Edition for $3,147.89. For what it's worth, that is $1,000 more that $700 per year that I have been paying. I suppose the argument is we are 'moving up,' but the only move up is to the Team Edition server piece, and I'm not sure a small group like mine needs that. But the real $64K question is what if I have a second developer who does not have an existing license? What is it going to cost me then? $5,000 to $6,000? That is incredibly expensive licensing for access to a shared server product."

After weeks of tag-team emails and phone calls among different groups at Microsoft, Dell and the reader's organization, some progress was made in at least understanding what the reader's options were and how discounts for their Microsoft volume license agreement would apply. Just before the holidays, it appeared a solution that met the reader's needs had been found. "Keeping the cost over the three years of our Enterprise license in the neighborhood of what the Universal subscription had been for the last five year, is possible if - as I've opted - you get one complete media kit shipment up front, and then download updates rather than getting the monthly DVDs. That is something I can live with, but the extra $1,400 Microsoft wants for the DVD updates is outrageous. And any additional staff member buying in fresh will have to kick in $3,000 - $5,000 for the full three-year license price. Ka-ching."

"The most amazing thing has been the utter round-robin confusion and misunderstanding between Microsoft, Dell, and our purchasing people. The poor guy here who is designated as the coordinator of our volume license contracts is ready to throw his hands up in utter disgust. It is honestly the biggest debacle with a vendor I have ever walked through, and has been the hardest to clear up. Frankly, I will believe it is cleared up when I get that license number issued to me and the MSDN web site accepts for the new subscription period that kicks off the three-year license."

Such skepticism was foresighted on the reader's part, because it turned out his ordeal was far from over. When he returned to work in the new year, the access codes for his new MSDN subscription was waiting for him, but he found it impossible to log into the MSDN website with them. Phone calls and e-mails to Microsoft for help kept him and his license coordinator going in circles for days without solving the problem. And, to top it off, when the package that was supposed to be his complete media starter kit arrived, it was for the wrong Team Edition.
"It would be really nice if, just once at some point in this process, something could be done right the first time," the reader wrote in early January. "I have struggled to think back over the past couple of months of this process of ordering and accessing these licenses to see if I could identify one single point in time at which someone on the Dell side or the Microsoft side did something correctly the first time and I actually got what I was asking for. Unfortunately, there is no such point in time. What will it take to get this straightened out? What will it take for Microsoft to structure their service delivery so that the right hand knows what the left is doing, and product purchases are actually available, and delivered? Is there any chance this will happen before I retire in three years, one and a half months?"

Finally in late January, more than two months after he'd first tried to renew his MSDN subscription, the correct media kit for the Team Edition he'd purchased arrived. By this time his login problems on the MSDN download site had also been solved ... apparently part of the problem was his organization's license coordinator had used Firefox on some of Microsoft's web pages. But the reader and his colleagues were all flabbergasted by the sheer amount of incompetence they had met at every turn.

"Yes, at this point my subscription is registered correctly as part of our volume license agreement, and I have access to the MSDN site, the licenses I purchased, and all related downloads. It only took a little over two months to get through Dell and Microsoft. Both bear blame. But it is clear Microsoft management of their licensing and registration is pretty topsy turvey. Multiple programs. Confusion among customers. Confusion among resellers. They have fragmented the packaging of their offerings to the point it would be laughable if it were funny ... which it is not."


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