By now, those of you who are my IT readers almost certainly know about Microsoft’s July 1st decision to retire the TechNet subscription offerings for IT professionals. In turn, Cody Skidmore put together a popular site to petition Microsoft to save TechNet subscriptions. Cody and many others have blogged about their reasons why they think that TechNet subscriptions need be be revived, rather than stick with Microsoft’s current plans to push Azure services, trial software, and expensive MSDN subscriptions as reasonable alternatives. I have put my name to this petition, as I feel that the loss of TechNet subscriptions is going to have a noticeable impact in the Microsoft ecosystem in the next few years.
I also hear a few voices loudly proclaiming that everything is fine. They generally make a few good points, but they all make a solitary, monumental mistake: they assume that everyone using TechNet subscriptions use them for the same things they do, in the same ways they do. Frankly, this myopia is insulting and stupid, because none of these reasons even begin to address why I personally find the impending loss of TechNet subscriptions to be not only irritating, but actively threatening to my ability to perform at my peak as an IT professional.
As a practicing consultant, I have to be an instant expert on every aspect of my customers’ Exchange environments, including the things that go wrong. Even when I’m on-site (which is rare), I usually don’t have unlimited access to the system; security rules, permissions, change control processes, and the need for uptime are all ethical boundaries that prevent me from running amok and troubleshooting wildly to my heart’s content. I can’t go cowboy and make whatever changes I need to (however carefully researched they may be) until I have worked out that those changes will in fact fix the problem and what the rollback process is going to be if things don’t work as expected.
Like many IT pros, I don’t have a ton of money to throw around at home. Because I have been working from home for most of the last few years, I have not even had access to my employer’s labs for hardware or software. I’ve been able to get around this with TechNet and virtualization. The value that TechNet provides as a reasonable price point is to give me full access to current and past versions of Microsoft software, updates, and patches, so I can replicate the customer’s environment in its essence, reduce the problem to the minimum steps for reproduction, and explore fixes or call in Microsoft Support for those times where it’s an actual bug with a workaround I can’t find. Demo versions of current software don’t help when I’m debugging interactions with legacy software, much of which rapidly becomes unavailable or at least extremely hard to find.
Microsoft needs to sit up and take notice; people like me save them money. Per-incident support pricing is not heinous, and it only takes a handful of hours going back and forth with the support personnel before it’s paid for itself from the customer’s point of view (I have no visibility into the economics on Microsoft’s side, but I suspect it is subsidized via software and license pricing overall). The thing is, though, Microsoft is a metric-driven company. If consultants and systems administrators no longer have a cost-effective source for replicating and simplifying problems, the obvious consequence I see is that Microsoft will see a rise in support cases, as well as a rise in the average time to resolve support cases, with the corresponding decrease in customer satisfaction.
Seriously, Microsoft – help us help you. Bring back TechNet subscriptions. They have made your software ecosystem one of the richest and healthiest of any commercial software company. Losing them won’t stem piracy of your products and won’t keep companies from using your software, but it will threaten to continue the narrative that Microsoft doesn’t care about its customers. And today more than ever, there are enough viable alternatives that you cannot take customer loyalty for granted.
Taking TechNet subscriptions away is a clear statement that Microsoft doesn’t trust its customers; customers will respond in kind. As the inevitable backlash to cloud services spreads in the wake of the NSA revelations, Microsoft will need all of the trust it can get. This is penny-wise, pound-foolish maneuvering at precisely the wrong time.