Picture the frustration and numb resignation that comes with licensing a car at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and you’ll be reminded of the pain of software licensing. With Windows Vista, Microsoft says it wants to address that frustration and “make it simpler for people to research, budget, and purchase” the OS, according to Joe Matz, vice president, Worldwide Licensing and Pricing Group. To this end, Microsoft recently announced it is “adding features to the Microsoft Product Licensing Advisor (MPLA) and broadening its Microsoft License Statement (MLS) to new customers.”

Of course, the reason why Microsoft’s licensing is so complex is that the company has so many different ways to purchase software. As Matz said, “Our goal has always been to offer agreements tailored to meet specific customer needs, particularly the small business and midsize market. Geared toward organizational size and purchasing power, our volume licensing programs provide simple, flexible, and affordable options that enable customers to easily acquire their licenses.”

Well, if it were really that “simple” to “easily acquire” licenses, a tool such as MPLA wouldn’t be necessary, would it? Matz tacitly acknowledges that point, saying, “MPLA was developed in response to direct customer feedback requesting information, clarity, and transparency related to Microsoft licensing and pricing options.” He goes on to explain that the tool lets you compare “each volume-licensing program and \[guides you\] through a series of questions.” MPLA “produces a downloadable report and estimated retail price quote, as well as a financing quote from Microsoft Financing.” The tool’s step-by-step process lets you “choose products and solutions based on \[your\] unique needs, and then selects the best-fit licensing program.”

Updates to MPLA for Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 include “detailed product information about entire IT solutions and functionality so that customers and partners can learn about the products and various licensing options without having to know a myriad of details beforehand. There are links to product trials, and customers can build their queries by solutions that are mapped to our Infrastructure Optimization Model, such as Business Intelligence, or Enterprise Content Management,” explained Matz. You can find MPLA at http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/mplahome.mspx.

Matz also discussed the general availability of the Microsoft License Statement (MLS), which was previously available by invitation only. Described as an inventory sheet, MLS lets you see how many volume license purchases you’ve made and how many licenses you have for infrastructure, as well as how many upgrades you need to buy.

Another recently released tool I want to point out is Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 Tools. Microsoft has added several ways to activate multiple Vista PCs in business desktop environments. The Windows Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT) lets you use a Multiple Activation Key (MAK) to automate and centrally manage the volume-activation process. MAK activation requires a one-time communication with Microsoft, either independently by each computer, or VAMT can proxy the communication on behalf of multiple computers at once. VAMT is available at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=12044DD8-1B2C-4DA4-A530-80F26F0F9A99&displaylang=en.

And now for something completely different: I’ve been recording a series of podcasts with members of Microsoft’s security teams. Forefront Client Security is the first podcast. Network Access Control (NAC) technologies, which prevent clients from accessing your network if they’re not compliant with your security policies, is the topic of the second. The third and fourth recordings are about Vista’s built-in security technologies. You can download these podcasts at http://www.windowsitpro.com/podcast/. It’s always interesting to hear the Microsoft product teams explain their products. These were lively discussions that’ll give you answers to your questions.