With the high cost of Vista looming on the horizon I thought it best to sign up for a Microsoft subscription package and get all their software for one year for one price.  I wanted to screw around with a lot of their products and this was the best way to get mostly everything on one place.

Microsoft basically offers three ways to do this: TechNet, MSDN, Action Pack.  TechNet is aimed at the IT crowd, with full access to all Microsoft retail corporate/enterprise software ( no home or game products ).  MSDN is aimed at the developer, offering the same as TechNet plus development packages.  Both of these are meant for development/testing environments and can’t be rolled out onto production machines.  Action Pack is offered to Microsoft Partners and offers some server and desktop packages with ten licenses; it’s meant to be rolled out to a PC business only.  MSDN was too expensive for me so that was out.  Action Pack and TechNet Plus were about the same price, but TechNet offered the full range of server, application and operating system software.

To further complicate things TechNet came in three varieties: regular, Plus and Direct.  Regular gave you access to all the software for a year, but the licences were only good while you were a subscriber.  Plus had full licenses that didn’t end.  Regular and Plus had the software arrive quarterly on CD or DVD.  Direct was $349 U.S. and didn’t have anything mailed; you downloaded ISO images of the software and received CD keys online.  Cheaper than any other option with instant gratification; what could be better?

What could be better is clear, defined information on each package and what’s included.  Action Pack had a nice website with a clear breakdown of what you received.  MSDN was extremely difficult to navigate through to see what you were paying for.  TechNet was somewhere in the middle, with clear definitions of the three offerings but not on what was actually included.  Darting around the TechNet website gave me enough information to decide, plus they offered a thirty day money back guarantee.

I signed up and gave my credit card information.   The process finished with a nice online invoice and an indication that my subscription would be ready in eleven days.  This was a download service from Microsoft, but it would take eleven days to set up?  Something was very wrong here.  I received an email indicating I had purchased techNet Direct and estimated delivery date was eleven days later, but not applicable for Direct orders.

Sensing I was just missing something I tried logging into the Subscriber area of TechNet, but I needed a subscriber number, which didn’t appear on my invoice.  The next day I received an email indicating my payment had been processed.  Over twenty four hours to process a credit card payment online; I had the feeling Microsoft was taking my online submission and sending it to a clerk at a desk somewhere who manually processed my payment.  Still no indication of how or what to do about using my paid subscription.

I gave it a few days and still nothing, so I hunted for quite a while through the TechNet and Microsoft customer service pages and found a place to retrieve my subcriber number based on my name and email address.  Finally I was in and perusing the available software.  Two days later an email arrived welcoming me to TechNet Plus Direct, seven days after I paid online.  The next day I received a card in the mail with my subscriber ID.  In the age of the internet and e-commerce this was the saddest end user experience I’ve come across.

Once I had access it was time to start downloading.  I run Small Business Server 2003 on my home network and wanted to upgrade to R2, plus grab Vista and Office 2007.  TechNet Plus allows you to install each piece of software on up to ten machines, and provides sixty days before activation is required.   Since my entire home network of two servers and six desktops was a testbed, the TechNet subscription would serve me well.  A bunch of new software is coming out this year and it seemed to be the best time to try this out.

It’s worth mentioning that only retail product is available through TechNet.  Beta corporate software and such are available as well but I haven’t explored everything yet.  I wanted a stab at Microsoft Storage Server and maybe Media Center Edition 2005 but they’re both OEM products and not listed.   More home centric product access would be nice as well, like Streets & Trips.  First day download of eighteen gigabytes put me in touch with most of what Microsoft is offering.  Now I just need the time to install it.

I am a pseudo journalist and have access to Microsoft PR resources that occasionally give me free software, and January 30th I was invited to the Vista/Office 2007 launch in Toronto.  The event was held in an ice block building (very cool; pun intented).  Microsoft Canada people were onsite to demo various aspects of Vista and Office 2007, but it was meant for general press and didn’t get too technical.  I was able to chat with one guy about Microsoft Home Server and the utter lack of CableCard support in Canada (meaning no HD recording in Vista).  The PR folks are very nice, but when you start asking them for a lot of server products they get tight fisted.