When it comes to Windows, Office and other Microsoft products, many small businesses are paying over the odds. However, there are plenty of discounts available. We show you where to look.

They buy software off retail shelves or online, one-at-a-time, and miss significant discounts that are available to almost every company.

If your company uses more than four Microsoft products, such as Project or Visio, there is a discount program available. You just have to know where to look.

How much can you save? Up to 50 percent in one current promotion, but more commonly five to 25 percent, depending on the product.

Microsoft offers three volume licensing programs for small and medium-sized businesses with anywhere from five to 250 PCs. They are: Open Licence, Open Value, and Open Value Subscription.

The company also offers a program called Software Assurance that, for an annual payment of 29 percent of your Microsoft apps purchases and 25 percent of server purchases, provides ongoing 'free' upgrades and other benefits.

Software Assurance (SA) is described in detail following the program descriptions.

These names appear in various forms in different places - even at Microsoft. I have used the more easily recognised form of each program name.

You would think the Microsoft Small Business site would make it easy to find out about each program, but it doesn't, instead referring customers to resellers for additional information.

It helps to know what to ask about, so here are program specifics:

Open Licence

"The easiest and simplest approach for small business is the Open License program," said Paul de Groot, licencing specialist with Directions on Microsoft, a newsletter and consulting firm that advises customers on how to best purchase Microsoft products.

"The program is very easy to get into - any five licences gets you an authorisation number - and takes somewhere between five and 25 percent off licence prices," de Groot said.

"Open License is transactional, meaning there are no long term commitments, and Software Assurance is optional. An authorisation lasts for two years, and once you get it, you can order additional licences one at a time and still get the discounted price."

Open Licences also allows customers to manage their software licences online and to install software from copies stored on local servers.

Open value

"If you want Software Assurances on every licence and slightly better discounts, you can do that with Open Value," de Groot said.

"Open Value is a program that doesn't count software licences, but the number of PCs in your organisation."

"If you're looking to do an across-the-board upgrade - say from WinXP and Office 2003 to Win7 Pro and Office 2007, with rights to Win 7 Enterprise and Office 2010 at no additional cost - Open Value might be the better option."

Open Value customers commit to purchasing a customised set of Microsoft products for their desktops and are able to simplify licence tracking, make upgrades more easily, and improve cost management for their software investment.

Open Value requires a three-year commitment.

A key feature of the Open Value program is the ability to spread payments out over three years.

Small business IT advice

NEXT PAGE: Open Value subscription

  1. We show you where to find discount programs
  2. Open Value subscription
  3. Planning is key