Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) is a Microsoft maintenance program aimed at business users who use Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, and other server and desktop applications. The core premise behind SA is to give users the ability to spread their payments for the software over multiple years, while offering "free" upgrades to newer versions in that time period.
The full list of benefits, effective March 2006, are as follows:
- Upgrade rights to newer versions of software as they become available
- Spread payments over multiple years
- Windows Preinstallation Environment for building custom installs of Windows XP & 2003
- Windows Vista Enterprise Edition is only available to Software Assurance customers
- Training: Free IT training from Microsoft, and access to E-Learning, a series of interactive online training tools for users. This training can only be taken at a Microsoft Certified Partner for Learning Solutions, a full list is available at http://www.microsoft.com/learning. Also, these can only be redeemed for training that is categorized as Microsoft Official Curriculum.
- Home use: Employees of a company with SA can use an additional copy of Microsoft software at home on their own computers
- Employee Purchase Program: Employees also get discounts on retail purchases of Microsoft products (Going to be discontinued in October 2010)
- Access to the Windows source code for larger companies (1,500+ desktops)
- 24x7 telephone and web support
- Additional error reporting tools to let administrators collect information on application failures
- Free licenses for additional servers provisioned as "Cold backups" of live servers
- Access to Technet managed newsgroups
- Availability of Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs
- Extended Hotfix support: Typically Microsoft charges for non-security hotfixes after mainstream support for the product has ended (e.g. 5 years for Windows); this charge is waived for SA customers
All benefits are generated by a Benefits Administrator at the customer organization and can be managed on the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center at http://licensing.microsoft.com
Software Assurance is often criticized for its expense and the lack of "free" software upgrades within the contract period. The development period between Microsoft operating systems often exceeds three years, therefore requiring the purchaser to renew their software assurance for another contract period, in order to get the next upgrade for "free".
Software Assurance was part of Licensing 6.0 and initially only provided upgrades, but around the Office 2003 release, more benefits were added. In March 2006, Microsoft added even more benefits, including the Windows Vista Enterprise Edition and the Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs.
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