In my article "Microsoft Launches Controversial Licensing Program," which appeared in the June 6 issue of SQL Server Magazine UPDATE, I discussed Microsoft's relaunch of Licensing 6.0, a new model that will change the way you buy SQL Server. (The article, which you can find at http://www.sqlmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=25500 , addresses how License 6.0 and Software Assurance will affect you.) Several Software Assurance discounts and purchase options expire at the end of July, so you have less than a month to make important decisions about your SQL Server licenses.

I made a potentially serious error in my original Software Assurance discussion. Paul DeGroot, sales and support strategies analyst (i.e., a licensing analyst) for the "Directions on Microsoft" newsletter, graciously alerted me to the error. DeGroot pointed out that he had made a similar mistake during preliminary research and writing of his company's 60-page research report about Microsoft's new licensing models. The error is subtle, but important.

My commentary suggested that you could buy Software Assurance today for a single year. That's probably not true for most customers. Microsoft offers three main volume license programs: Enterprise Agreements, Select Agreements, and Open Agreements. Most SQL Server customers have acquired SQL Server under one of these volume-licensing programs. You must purchase Software Assurance for the term of your volume license program (if you're in one); until 2003 (when some Licensing 6.0 plans have only a year left on them), customers won't be able to purchase Software Assurance for only 1 year.

Here's one example. Let's assume your company has fewer than 100 desktops. You would probably choose the Open Agreement program, which runs for 2 years. The terms of existing Open Agreements would require you to purchase Software Assurance for 2 full years, even if you have only 1 year left on your Open Agreement. Of course, that deal might not be best for you. You can easily start a new Open Agreement, but you would still be required to purchase Software Assurance for the full 2 years of the agreement. Other volume-plan options might require you to pay for 3 full years of Software Assurance. As of this writing, probably no volume-licensing plan customers would purchase Software Assurance for fewer than 2 years.

Software Assurance might be a good deal for customers who typically upgrade to the latest version of SQL Server shortly after its release. But my new understanding of Licensing 6.0 shows that buying Software Assurance is much more complex than I thought, and a full discussion of the legal and cost issues isn't a job for a geek like me. Please spend some time with your Microsoft software reseller as you analyze your options before the July 31 transition-period deadline expires. Explore your options and make an informed choice by the end of the month.

You might be interested in reading the 60-page "Licensing Research Report" prepared by "Directions on Microsoft. " This report costs $995; however, SQL Server Magazine has negotiated a special offer for readers of SQL Server Magazine UPDATE. Readers can purchase the basic "Directions on Microsoft" service subscription (12 issues) for $695, which represents a $100 discount, and receive the Licensing report as a subscription bonus. Take advantage of this offer by referencing discount code SQLUPD during the subscription process at http://www.directionsonmicrosoft.com.