Recently, the CEO of my company walked into my office and asked a simple question: "How much of the software we use everyday is legal?" Fortunately, I could answer that all our company-owned machines had legal copies of all general-use office-automation applications. We have a policy that we purchase machines with Microsoft Office preinstalled, so I knew that every machine had a legal copy. However, I discovered that we had multiple versions of Office XP and Office 2000 on these machines, based on whatever deal the vendor was offering when we bought each batch of computers. So our production environment had a mix of Office versions (e.g., Small Business, Professional, with FrontPage, without FrontPage). And each version required its own CD-ROM to complete the upgrade necessary for some security fixes we were applying.

We sorted out the OEM CD-ROMs and were able to update all our systems, but then I wanted to determine what versions of our other Microsoft applications were installed on the network. As I shopped for an asset-management application to help with this task, I discovered the Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer (MSIA).

MSIA lets you scan local and network machines for Microsoft applications and development tools. You can scan selected network computers or the entire network. MSIA correctly identified multiple versions of Microsoft Office installed across our network as well as each machine's OS.

Microsoft designed the tool for license management. If you enter the number of licenses that you own for each product, then run MSIA, you’ll receive a report that tells you how many extra licenses you have or by how many licenses you exceed your legal limit. If you generate the report output as HTML, the report will include links to documents on the Microsoft Web site that describe the available license types and where you can obtain the licenses. MSIA reports the information to only the console from which you run MSIA, so you needn't worry that the tool is reporting your license status to Microsoft.

This handy tool will help keep your Microsoft licenses legal without requiring you to invest in asset- and license-management software. For systems administrators, the tool is worth downloading and running, simply to get a feel for the software installed on your network.