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Microsoft plans to deliver a set of new software tools designed to remove some of the pain enterprises experience when deploying and managing desktops and applications.

The software giant is bundling four of the technologies it has acquired over the past few months into an offering known as the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, which will be announced at the SoftSummit conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on Oct.17.

But these technologies will only be available as a single, add-on subscription pack, starting in January, to those customers with a Windows desktop Software Assurance contract.

The cost for those users will be $10 a year per desktop, Gavriella Schuster, the senior director of Microsoft’s Windows client product marketing group, told eWEEK.

The new pack includes the SoftGrid for Windows Desktop product, acquired from Softricity, known as Microsoft SoftGrid, which is used in application virtualization and streaming; and the (Microsoft) Asset Inventory Services technology acquired from Assetmetrix, which lets users run an inventory scanner across their environment to catalog all the software on all the desktops and translates that into reports and analysis.

Also included is the IT administration pack acquired from Winternals, which will be renamed the Microsoft Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset, and which accelerates desktop repair; as well as the GPOVault technology from the DesktopStandard acquisition, which will be renamed Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management, and which enables granular management of group policy through versioning, change management and delegation.

Click here to read more about Microsoft’s acquisition of tools vendor Winternals.

Perpetual, nonmaintenance versions of the four products will continue to be available from their original vendors through June 2007 at the current price, but after that will only be available to Windows desktop Software Assurance subscribers, Schuster said.

This latest offering is not tied to the delivery of Windows Vista and will also run on Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Schuster said.

“We have been hearing from customers for the last five years about a consistent set of pain-points, particularly around application compatibility as well as on asset management and application lifecycle management,” she said.

Microsoft had been looking at how best it could provide solutions to address those pain-points, including its own existing in-house technologies. “Unfortunately while we were able to do a lot with Vista, we didn’t feel that we were able to check the box for all of those pain-points, and so we looked to acquire those technologies so as to robustly deal with those issues,” Schuster said.

One enterprise that experienced that pain firsthand is Expedia, which is using Microsoft Asset Inventory Services to reduce its IT management and support headaches, while also gaining insight into the software on the company’s 5,700 desktops and other PCs, Terry Blake, its director of IT procurement, said.

“Our first inventory recouped the cost of the service, which we licensed before its inclusion in the Desktop Optimization Pack, eight times over. We thought we were running many more versions of vendor software than we actually were. For the first time, we had solid proof. Before we just had to guess,” he said.

Microsoft is also likely to build this new functionality into the core Windows client kernel in the future, “maybe not in the next version, but at some point we certainly want to provide this type of technology to everyone. But the point of Software Assurance is to give early access to new technologies,” Schuster said.

Next Page: Software Assurance renewals are on the rise.

While Microsoft executives have recently said that Software Assurance renewals are tracking at the highest level in years, that was not always the case.

Read more here about how customers have balked at Software Assurance in the past.

Software Assurance customers will also be able to make these technologies available to some, or all, of their desktops, Schuster said, adding that additional technology could be added to the optimization pack in the future.

The Microsoft SoftGrid product will be available in January through the volume license program, while the other three will be released by the end of June and be included in the media kit for the desktop optimization pack shipped to those customers every month, she said.

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio was upbeat about the new pack, saying that companies need the ability to instantly access and control all of the applications on employee desktops, mobile PCs and other machines.

“The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack directly addresses these issues and will enable businesses to significantly reduce the actual time and actual number of administrators needed to successfully resolve Help Desk problems,” she said.

Microsoft’s Schuster said some of the additional technologies the company recently acquired will be made available in other products going forward, such as the Terminal Services version of the Softgrid product, and other services that were acquired under the Assetmetrix deal, but those product plans are still under development.

The tools in this new optimization pack also extend the capabilities of Microsoft Systems Management Server. When used together, Microsoft Asset Inventory Services and SMS allow IT administrators to uncover hidden applications and then write routines to capture and manage these applications across the network.

Microsoft’s SMS has gained a new name and fresh focus. Click here to read eWEEK Labs’ review.

“With Microsoft Asset Inventory Services, I can uncover the data to make business decisions, and SMS gives me the tools to implement my business decisions. It’s a great match,” Expedia’s Blake said.

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