In last week's Commentary, I discussed Microsoft Office volume licensing. This week, I'd like to share some good advice from Outlook UPDATE readers and follow up with additional pointers about your licensing options.

Reader Mike Gilbert reminded me of another factor to keep in mind when considering an OEM purchase-–eligibility for Software Assurance. SA is the upgrade program that lets you run the most recent version of the covered product. For example, if you bought Office XP this year and included 2-year SA coverage in your purchase, you'd be licensed to install Office 11 when it comes out next year.

For applications such as Office, you can buy SA only when you buy product licenses through the volume licensing program. Neither OEM purchases nor retail Office purchases are eligible, according to the "Applications Products Software Assurance Eligibility Differences" document posted on Microsoft's Web site (see the first URL below).

SA is probably the most controversial aspect of Microsoft's current licensing program. Not only is the product eligibility limited to volume licenses, but its cost effectiveness for a particular company depends on how often that company upgrades its software-–and indeed on how often Microsoft issues new versions. The alternative is to skip SA and buy all new licenses every time your organization wants to upgrade its Office version.

To encourage organizations to join the Open license program and buy licenses with SA, Microsoft is offering special financing through the end of September. Qualified buyers will incur no interest charges during the first 90 days on purchases of at least $2000 (see the second URL below).

Outlook UPDATE reader Dave Nickason offered some hard-won advice from his licensing experience: Check with Microsoft for the exact part number of the application you want to license before you talk to the sales representative you're buying the licenses from. Also, he says, don't forget to order media. A license doesn't include the software CD-ROM that you'll use for the installation.

After some searching, I finally found volume pricing and even part numbers on Microsoft's Web site. Using the Product and Technology Catalog (see the third URL below), select a product and click Find It. Then on the product page, click the Volume Pricing link on the left. These pages will at least give you benchmark costs that you can use to shop for the best price from different resellers.

During my search, I found one additional document well worth reading. Microsoft has summarized its overall licensing policy in the 35-page document Purchase Use Rights (see the fourth URL below). This document sheds light on many issues. For example, each license for an application (as opposed to a developer tool or server) permits you to install the application on a second portable device used by the person who uses the first copy of the application. In other words, you don't need extra software licenses for laptops, as long as each laptop user also has a desktop machine running a licensed copy of the software.

Purchase Use Rights also clarifies the provisions for Work at Home licenses, which are available only under the Select or Enterprise volume programs, not under the Open program that applies to small to midsized businesses. A Work at Home license, purchased separately for a user whose office equipment already has a valid application license, lets that user run a copy of the application when working at home. Microsoft notes that the Work at Home program isn't an employee purchase plan—the Work at Home license belongs to the user's employer, not the user.

Applications Products Software Assurance Eligibility Differences

Microsoft Open License Credit Line Program

Microsoft Product and Technology Catalog

Purchase Use Rights