News

An Action Pack Test

Partners will have to pass a test to get the heavily dicounted software bundle.

Action Packs, the software bundles Microsoft makes available at a very low price for its Registered Member partners, are going to require a little more action to obtain come the end of November.

Microsoft announced in August that as of Nov. 30, partners will need to pass an exam in order to receive an Action Pack, which members of the Microsoft Partner Program can currently purchase for $299 (U.S. price) without having to take any tests.

Partners seeking the Action Pack "will be required to take an online course from the Partner Learning Center and pass the associated course assessment (with a score of 70 percent or higher)," Microsoft officials said in a statement. Partners will need to pass a test once every two years; officials in Redmond say that there are more than 600 online courses from which partners can choose.

Elimination Game
Microsoft officials say that they hope the new procedure eliminates inactive or ineligible partners from the rolls of Action Pack subscribers, which officials say currently number more than 190,000 worldwide. That's a pretty large percentage of the 370,000 Registered Members.

"We anticipate a slight drop in the number of subscribers who are relatively inactive and expect this will curtail ineligible subscribers from obtaining Action Packs," Microsoft officials said in a statement. "We also expect continued growth in new markets and believe that the upcoming releases of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 will fuel excitement within our partner community to 'use, learn and sell' these exciting technologies."

Some of the Microsoft Certified and Gold Certified partners, who have exclusive access to an Action Pack-like offering called the Lite Tool Kit, welcome the change, which may help remove some underpriced Microsoft software from the market. Stephen Hand, president and CTO of Know Technology LLC, a Gold Certified Partner based in Camden, Maine, says he's all for the change in policy.

"Requiring a minor extra step to take advantage of the Action Pack is a great step," Hand says. "The value that one gets from the Action Pack is well worth taking the time to take a class and test out on an item.

"This may stem the tide a little in what I often see as an abuse of the Action Pack program. On a fairly regular basis, we hear of Registered partners telling clients [end users] to simply sign up as a Registered [Member] and buy the Action Pack to get the best value in Microsoft products. The number of four- to 10-person offices out there that are [not really partners and] using Small Business Server and all of the Office products for practically free needs to be curtailed," Hand says. "Requiring the certification may help."

Piracy Crackdown
In addition to the gray area of small businesses using the Action Pack, Microsoft has also cracked down on cases of outright piracy involving the promotional bundle. In November 2005, the company filed seven lawsuits claiming that defendants were using fake names and other practices to obtain hundreds of the software bundles for illegal resale.

Not all legitimate partners are fond of the new test requirements, and bitterness is especially apparent among the ranks of Registered Members, who are directly affected. One partner, who asked not to be identified, says the new Action Pack procedure is just another change from Microsoft with which partners must deal.

"Microsoft wrote the book on changing the rules in the middle of the game, and since they're holding all the cards, I guess those of us who subscribe will have to hitch up our pants and wade into whatever pond [Microsoft] decrees," the partner says. He adds, however, that he would take the Action Pack test and that the program "provides a genuine value to VARs." Microsoft officials have estimated the value of all the software in the quarterly bundle at more than $50,000.

About the Author

Lee Pender is Redmond Channel Partner magazine's senior editor. You can reach him at lpender@rcpmag.com.