There was speculation last fall that Microsoft was "rushing" to get Windows Vista out the door by the end of 2006 in order to quiet the millions of Windows Software Assurance customers. That is, the people who pay for what other vendors call a "maintenance agreement" guaranteeing no further charge for updates issued during the term of the agreement. In other words, it was like a pre-purchase of an upcoming product release. But if no product was released during the term (typically a single year) of the agreement, a new agreement costing new money would have to be negotiated for the next year.In talking about that, I quoted the Gartner Group as telling its clients: "Gartner believes that Microsoft wishes to release a new version of Windows by year-end 2006 to shore up revenue and appease customers that paid for Software Assurance on the client operating system\u00a0under Enterprise, Open or Select agreements." I agreed with that reasoning, but not everyone did.Just last week, however, Microsoft bolstered the argument by announcing several major changes to beef up features of Software Assurance, according to a story carried on NetworkWorld.com (see "Microsoft to bolster Software Assurance program").The story quoted Amanda Abel, head of licensing and software asset management for Microsoft U.K. as indicating that - among other changes - Microsoft would now:* Pay for one of its partners to visit organizations that have Software Assurance and conduct workshops to train employees on new versions of the software.* Grant employees working for companies with Software Assurance eligibility for discounts on other software for their personal use.* Rescind the requirement that organizations have to purchase a second license for an unused back-up server.Those aren't bad benefits. And it certainly appears that Vista will at last be available - and well before year-end. So Software Assurance appears to be a good deal for 2006 and most likely also for 2007 as the next version of Windows Server is still on course to be available before that year runs out. Maybe. My advice is to get Software Assurance if you don't already have it, use all the benefits if you do have it but make a note to review the program before your term expires.