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"Microsoft is retiring the TechNet Subscriptions service to focus on growing its free offerings," Microsoft said on the TechNet site.
The service offered what amounted to a perpetual software license, for "evaluation purposes" only, for everything from Dynamics to Office to SharePoint to Windows and Windows Server. Microsoft said it will stop selling new TechNet subscriptions on Aug. 31. The last day to activate purchased subscriptions, which run for 12 months, will be Sept. 30 -- which means the last TechNet subscriptions will disappear into IT history as of Sept. 30, 2014.
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"As IT trends and business dynamics have evolved, so has Microsoft’s set of offerings for IT professionals who are looking to learn, evaluate and deploy Microsoft technologies and services," Microsoft said. "In recent years, we have seen a usage shift from paid to free evaluation experiences and resources."
The download-only version of TechNet Professional runs $349 for a new subscription. (Renewals were $249.) By comparison, the full downloadable version of Office 2013 Professional alone will run you nearly $400 in the Microsoft Store, and that only covers a single installation. Among a TechNet subscription's benefits: As long as the subscription was active, you could install the software on any device, home or office.
ZDNet's Ed Bott, who first reported the decision, noted that while TechNet subscriptions are a relative bargain for IT pros, they're an increasing pain for Microsoft. Because the "evaluation-only" license isn't really enforceable, a TechNet subscription was essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was also a juicy target for software pirates who resold the product keys on the black market.
To be clear, Microsoft isn't shutting down the TechNet site, which includes a trove of support documentation and other resources for IT pros, just the TechNet subscription service. Instead, it's steering customers toward its free, short-term trials of Windows and other products. For example, Microsoft currently offers a free 90-day evaluation copy of Windows 8 Enterprise. The company is also pushing its Virtual Labs, which are essentially 90-minute crash-course environments for Windows, Azure, SQL Server and other Microsoft products. The company will continue to offer its higher-priced Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscriptions, too.
The move comes at a crucial time for Microsoft: when it needs all of the friends and evangelists it can find to drum up excitement for Windows 8 and, soon, Windows 8.1. A lively discussion over at Spiceworks indicated that IT pros are, not surprisingly, unhappy about the news.
"Even if they do manage to break even on the revenue end of the deal from additional MSDN subscriptions, that fails to recognize the long-term cost of a lot of hacked-off IT folks," wrote stan8331. "Thumbing your nose at your own paying customers is rarely a wise business strategy, but when those individual customers will also be heavily involved in advocating for or against your products as part of their job in the future, it moves into the realm of self-destruction."
"Way to step on it again Microsoft. TechNet was one of the best tools in my bag for all kinds of reasons," wrote Buz. "Not real smart to piss off the IT community who push your product."
There was, however, a "too good to be true" element to TechNet subscriptions; they essentially operated on an honor code among subscribers. In killing TechNet subscriptions, Microsoft is stopping a source of cheap -- albeit legally and ethically vague -- software licenses across its product family.
Another Spiceworks discussion participant wondered aloud "if companies out there are using Technet subscriptions illegally such as in a live environment." In reply, Scott Alan Miller wrote: "I don't think there is much to wonder about. Tons of companies do that."