Fast (the Federation Against Software Theft) today said Microsoft's new licensing regime should be used as an opportunity for users to ensure they are complying with software laws.

Microsoft customers will only be able to sign up to its software assurance scheme until 31 July. After this date, if they are not a member of the scheme, they will have to pay for a full licence if they wish to upgrade to XP software at any point in the future.

"While it is not our policy to comment on Microsoft's commercial decisions, what is apparent is that there is a major issue when it comes to ensuring that users have the licences they need," said Paul Brennan, General Council at Fast.

"And this means that this is the ideal time to ensure that they are software compliant," said Brennan.

But many see Microsoft's cut-off point as a way of forcing businesses to upgrade. Microsoft has already ceased producing its 2000 software range.

"Microsoft does seem to pull software too quickly; nine months is simply not long enough. Users are being forced to join the scheme and upgrade or pay far more at a later date. They've really been left with little choice," said Geoff O'Connor, IT manager at PC Advisor.

By joining the scheme companies will be alerted to available upgrades at reduced prices.

"[People] would rather ignore the sometimes tedious task of licensing software, however there are major benefits once the task is completed. On average companies will save up to 30 percent on the cost of running its PCs," said Sarah Simpkins of Fast's corporate services.

"The Microsoft business licensing changes are just another reason to get the situation under control," added Simpkins.