Microsoft Licensing 6.0, the delayed and maligned licensing program that Microsoft finally introduced last summer, is about to undergo changes to add business value for corporations that purchase volume licensing for Microsoft software. According to many reports, Microsoft's most recent licensing program increased prices for about 60 percent of customers, compared with the company's previous licensing programs. A Microsoft Volume Licensing option called the Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) program lets customers sign up for subscriptionlike payments over a 2- or 3-year period. SA gives customers access to the most recent versions of Microsoft software during the subscription period.

Beginning in September, Microsoft will give SA subscribers new services that will make the subscription a better value. Depending on the program, product, and region, these new services will include home-use rights to let employees legally use their work copies of Microsoft Office products at home, access to online training resources, vouchers for employees to attend training courses at technical centers, access to Web-based technical support resources, and phone-based technical support during regular business hours. For more information about these new free services, visit the Microsoft Licensing Web site.

Microsoft also announced that beginning May 28 the company will lower the retail cost of Office products. Microsoft is slashing the price of the boxed versions of Office XP Standard Edition and Office XP Professional Edition by about 15 percent. Standalone copies of Microsoft Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002, and Access 2002 will cost about 30 percent less.