I'm sure that well-meaning people were present in whatever Microsoft conference room in Redmond when they decided to terminate the TechNet program. But I wonder if they understood the impact that this decision will have on the many people who use TechNet as a fundamental part of their Microsoft-centric ecosystem? And if TechNet goes away, how many will invest in MSDN and how many will look elsewhere. Is there anywhere elsewhere or does Microsoft have people over a barrel here? Making your supporters unhappy seems like a brain-dead decision to me.
I like to think that I am not one of the “enterprise fanboys” referred to by ZDNet's Ed Bott when he wrote about the curious decision taken by Microsoft to phase out TechNet subscriptions, but I am still upset, largely because I think this is a brain-dead decision by the world’s largest software company.
You can still buy or renew a subscription up to August 31, 2013 but after that it’s goodnight and thank you. Current subscribers, like me, will continue to be able to use the program’s benefits until subscriptions expire. And after that we’ll be forced to either take out an MSDN subscription if we want to have access to Microsoft technology or download time-limited evaluation versions. Neither option is a good solution for many people who work with Microsoft technology on a daily basis.
The decision won’t affect enterprise customers as they will continue to use volume licenses. It will affect third-party consultants, developers, and writers who depend on TechNet for access to software that they can use for evaluation and learning, to make recommendations to customers, and to write about technology. I have relied on TechNet for years to download different versions of Windows, Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, and many other products, most of which I have written about here. I’ve used labs created with these products to learn about their strengths and weaknesses so that I can have intelligent discussions with customers and other interested parties. In short, I depend on TechNet.
MSDN is certainly an option, but only if you’re prepared to pay a huge increase over TechNet. Some estimate the increase at five or six times the equivalent TechNet fee. For example, if you examine the MSDN subscriptions page, to gain access to Windows, Exchange, and Office, it seems like I’d need “Visual Studio Premium with MSDN”, costing a not inconsiderable $6,119 annually. I could care less about Visual Studio and much of the other stuff that comes with MSDN but that doesn’t matter.
What about using evaluation editions? That’s certainly a way to get hold of Microsoft products for test purposes, but only for limited periods. The problem here is that many projects take longer than the usual 180 days allowed for evaluation, which means that you get into a perpetual cycle of rebuilding labs. This is certainly a wonderful way of filling in long weekend hours if not a method of keeping peace within the family. Exchange gets a pass on this point because although an unlicensed server will generate nagging messages after 180 days, it still continues to work.
TechNet is often used to gain product knowledge. Apparently the new way is to acquire knowledge through Microsoft Virtual Academy, which isn’t quite the same as gaining the hands-on burnt-in experience from going through product installation and configuration a few times and having the chance to fall into whatever traps are caused by prerequisite patches and odd installation instructions. These things just don’t happen when cameras are present. In any case, there is no substitute for real-life experience.
Microsoft might have a problem with software piracy and probably are some people who have illegally reused software obtained through TechNet in the past. Brown smelly stuff happens in the real world but that’s no reason to impose extra cost and pain on the millions of others who keep to the rules – especially as the TechNet community is probably as strong a group of Microsoft supporters as you’re likely to find. Instead of making their supporters unhappy, you’d imagine that someone in Redmond would know how to come up with an elegant, functional, and effective software solution to piracy that allows the rest of us to continue working without hindrance. Or maybe that’s too much to ask for.
I guess all of this won’t matter when we have been absorbed by the cloud. After all, the cloud promises to provide endless evergreen software delivered in a seamless manner with all of that mundane product installation workload done automatically. Alas, I suspect that the promised nirvana will not be attained any time soon, despite Microsoft’s desire to force the issue. And small matters like PRISM make the cloud less attractive, especially for a service like Office 365 delivered by U.S. companies.
If you think that Microsoft should keep TechNet or create an affordable MSDN option to replace TechNet, then you should sign this online petition (more than 8,000 have signed to date). Microsoft might just listen to the most loyal and faithful portion of their installed base. They might just… for once.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna