We're just a few short days away from the anniversary of Microsoft's announcement to end its TechNet subscription service. July 1 marks the day that many IT Pros felt the music died, and was a final nail in the coffin showing Microsoft simply doesn't love IT Pros anymore.
Sure, there have been other examples since then, but that was the one moment in time that IT Pros could really feel the forced tug of Microsoft's intent. 15 years running a successful service is a long time, but Microsoft decided to end it anyway, leaving many IT Pros reeling from confusion and without a proper reason as to why the service was ended. Something can be said for going out in a blaze of glory, or being better to burn out than fade away, but many felt that TechNet subscriptions still had a lot of life left and a lot more value left to give. Many still do and I hear it regularly when talking with IT Pros. Microsoft hoped it would die down to nothing, but it hasn't. IT Pros, it seems, have memories like elephants and keep grudges like hoarders keep cardboard.
An entire community around "Saving TechNet" grew up, but it was all for naught. Microsoft heard the pleas, but chose to ignore them and to not address them directly. To dull the roar the company promised better things. It stated that it would supply new technologies and new opportunities to quote: better meet the needs of the growing IT professional community.
So, I think it's worthy to reflect a bit over the past year and to look deep into what Microsoft has actually provided to replace the coveted TechNet subscription service. TechNet subscriptions were used by IT Pros for full copies of Microsoft evaluation software, allowing them to use and test. Has Microsoft provided enough value to show promises kept?
On July 1st, will you be able to place flowers on the grave in sweet remembrance? Or, is it more like the premise of the Poltergeist movie where instead of honoring the dead, they just paved over top of them with modern construction? Of course, we all know how that ended.
TechNet Evaluation Center
The TechNet Evaluation Center is one of Microsoft's offerings to give IT Pros the ability to download evaluation software. However, the software is 'evaluation' in every sense of the word, allowing only 90-180 days to install, test, and remove. From an IT Pro perspective, this is just not enough time to evaluate. Consider that every IT Pro has a multitude of tasks and projects and testing SQL Server 2014 is just one of them. Also, consider businesses sometimes have thousands of apps that must be tested against any new software. That makes 180 days seem like a single grain of sand in the hourglass. This also means that IT Pros have to have the time to rebuild their test labs every 90-180 days, just to test the next scenario that didn’t fall within the allotted time range.
Microsoft promotes the TechNet Evaluation Center as full-featured evaluations at no cost. When's the last time you agreed to pay for an evaluation?
Still, there's a lot of value being able to download and test software if you have the time.
My Grade: C-
Microsoft Virtual Academy
Clearly, the best offering in the bunch is the Microsoft Virtual Academy. While it doesn't provide software downloads, it does provide in-depth technical knowledge and training around Microsoft products in almost all categories. And, Microsoft has steadily improved the service over the past year. Personally, I've spent a good amount of time there and find it very valuable.
Courses can be taken in whole or in bits, and your progress is stored. When a course is completed, you'll receive a completion certificate and also be awarded points.
My Grade: A
One of the pieces Microsoft promised as a TechNet subscription replacement, is the TechNet Forums. The TechNet Forums are web-based support forums, however, Microsoft continues to lag when it comes to understanding customer communities. Customers get support from peers and the online communities they choose. Microsoft has never been able to completely understand that they cannot force people to participate in their forums.
TechNet subscriptions were never used as a support mechanism anyway, so this is clearly not an applicable tool. Many find Microsoft's forums to be confusing and feel that getting a solid answer is harder than teaching a horse to fly.
My Grade: D
Microsoft Azure VMs
A bright spot, and not really stated by Microsoft as an option originally, is utilizing Virtual Machines in Microsoft Azure. As we've seen over the last year, Microsoft has made steady (sometimes shockingly quick) improvements in what is available, what is offered, and how well it works. Microsoft Azure is becoming an extremely valuable solution for running and testing new software in VMs.
Still, this requires a Microsoft Azure paid subscription, but is considerably cheaper than what a TechNet subscription once cost. And, of course, not all software or every operating system is available to run in a VM.
My Grade: B+
I know many of you are still holding a stiff grudge against Microsoft for eliminating the TechNet subscription service, but there are options. Maybe they're still not better than what TechNet offered, but some of them are getting close. It's been almost a year, and as IT Pros, we are very good at adapting. What else, if anything, have you found to replace the value of your old, comfortable TechNet subscription? I'd like to hear.