Microsoft Introduces TechNet/MSDN License Restrictions
Written by Kay Ewbank   
Thursday, 05 July 2012

Microsoft has altered the TechNet license so that subscribers will no longer have the legal right to use the software downloaded under the license once the subscription term is over. The reasoning behind the change is to cut down on software piracy by rogue subscribers who sell or pass on their product keys to other people.

Note: Changes have been made to this article in response to information provided by Microsoft.

Microsoft has already tightened the terms for subscribers, reducing the product keys a TechNet subscriber gets from ten per product down to three, while MSDN subscribers are now limited to five keys per product and three keys for older products - however keys can be used in multiple activations..

The products covered by the product keys include most client and server operating systems, the Office suite, and Visual Studio.

The problem faced by Microsoft was that of fraudulent businesses selling the keys on, sometimes to innocent customers who did not realise they were buying keys not intended for commercial use. Microsoft also points out that subscribers can request additional keys if needed.

Alongside the new restriction comes a reduction in the number of product keys that can be downloaded per day by Technet subscribers to 10. For MSDN the limit is roughly 55 keys per 24 hour period, and for some subscription levels this is being reduced to seven.

 

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The TechNet license terms now say


“The subscription provides you with access to software and associated benefits. When your subscription concludes, you will no longer have access to the software or any associated benefits and must discontinue your use of the software.”

 

The software will in reality keep on working, but the license will expire when the subscription expires, and you’ll be expected to stop using the evaluation copies. As a Microsoft spokesperson told us:

Our new TechNet Subscription agreement explicitly states that a subscribermust discontinue use of the softwarewhen the subscription concludes.

However it is clear that just asking nicely isn't going to stop a pirate from continuing to use the software and the license also says:

"Key activity is monitored. Microsoft reserves the right to suspend or terminate your subscription, without any notice or obligation to you, if Microsoft detects suspicious activity related to keys or activations..."

So if could be that if you make your use of the keys activated software known to Microsoft by connecting to the internet then the keys and activations could be deactivated. It has to be admitted that exactly what Microsoft will do isn't made plain and we have asked for clarification - so look out for an update.

Microsoft has also clarified the terms of use of the software in the new subscription agreement to make it more obvious that the software is for evaluation rather than being a cut-price way to acquire licenses.

The simpler TechNet subscription contains the following key points:

  • You may not use the software if you do not have an active subscription.
  • You may install and use the software on your devices only to evaluate the software.
  • You may not use the software in a live operating environment, in a staging environment, or with data that has not been backed up.
  • You may not use the software for software development or in an application development environment.

MSDN subscribers can still use the software for design, development, testing, and demonstration of your programs.

While it is understandable that Microsoft wants to prevent rogue subscribers misusing the software, many long term subscribers will be unsettled by the changes.

TechNet and MSDN have provided a way for many people to get to know Microsoft software, and anything that constitutes a barrier will increase the numbers of people moving to open source alternatives.

If Microsoft moves to enforcing the limitation of use by cancelling keys automatically at the end of the license period, then a stronger reaction is likely. 

In the case of MSDN the license is still one that allows you to use the software for the range of purposes specified in perpetuity. This is exactly what is required and Microsoft would have to think very hard before changing this license condition. Notice that the TechNet license specifically rules out using it for software development or testing and now with the "time out" clause it becomes unattractive to even think about bending the rules.

We often create VMs for testing and then simply archive them in case they are needed at a later date. If the license key were to time out then the chances are the test setup wouldn't work when it was needed.  If Microsoft was to restrict the MSDN license in a similar way in an attempt to fight piracy then it would make the $2000 plus cost of MSDN look a lot less attractive.

A preview version of the updated  terms is available here.


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