Corporate users are giving a qualified thumbs-up to free training, support and software tools that Microsoft last week made part of a licensing program that has generated much discontent.Corporate users are giving a qualified thumbs-up to free training, support and software tools that\u00a0Microsoft\u00a0last week made part of a licensing program that has\u00a0generated much discontent.Along with the freebies, users also are embracing the return of a program that gives employees of corporations with licensing and maintenance contracts free or discounted software for home use. Microsoft scrapped a similar program five years ago.The flap began last year with the inception of the plan, and Microsoft should not consider the problem resolved: Users say Microsoft will need to continue to update and sweeten its Licensing 6.0 plan and the companion Software Assurance maintenance program."They have started something, and they will have to continue," says Pam Peschel, business support specialist for Denver Water. She says she is delighted with the addition of free support, training, software tools and home-use rights, but says more details are needed, especially about how free training will be doled out."It's about time," says Peschel, who bought into Software Assurance last year. "You pay an awful lot for it, and all you have been getting is upgrade rights. It wasn't a lot for your money."Microsoft's pricing for software maintenance remains highest in the industry, according to The Yankee Group. The price for Software Assurance is calculated at 25% of server licensing costs and 29% for desktops. Computer Associates is second at 22%, while IBM, Oracle and SAP come in between 18% and 22%.Microsoft says it will not adjust the pricing on Software Assurance but will expand the program's scope to include free Web-based and\/or telephone support. Vouchers for free technical training courses that can cost as much as $1,500 per day are another bonus. Users will get a free subscription to TechNet, Microsoft's online IT site that costs $1,000 for Licensing 6.0 customers.Experts say the freebies could save companies as much as $10,000.Some users, however, say Microsoft needs to add more tools to the package."Right now, Microsoft licensing is a mess," says Bruce Alcock, IT architect for Integris Health, the largest healthcare provider in Oklahoma. "The biggest problem is tracking licenses. The tools to track licenses are not sufficient."While Microsoft isn't adding tracking tools, it is including tools for error checking and rolling out software to multiple desktops.Two of the biggest perks might be free, self-paced online courses for end users and letting companies give employees home-use rights on products the company licenses through Software Assurance. For example, an employee could get a copy of Office for just the shipping and handling charges of about $25. Microsoft also will offer discounts of up to 30% on other software products."A big part for us was the home-use rights because it helps with some training issues," says Steve Edwards, vice president and IT director for Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates in Chicago. "We think this will make it easier to decide on staying with Microsoft and justify to those outside of IT what we are getting for the big checks we write to Microsoft."The Software Assurance perks begin Sept. 1."Clearly Microsoft is coming around and trying to get a second chance to make a first impression," says Laura DiDio, an analyst with The Yankee Group.Since its announcement in May 2001 until its rollout last fall, Licensing 6.0 has put Microsoft at odds with customers, some of whom saw a dramatic increase in software costs and threatened to defect to\u00a0Linux.Licensing revampMicrosoft says it hopes to soothe complaints about licensing by adding perks.Add-onsWhat it isWho benefitsTraining\u2022 Training vouchers\u2022 Online trainingIT staffs get free technical certification classes; online training available to end users.Support\u2022 Web-based and telephone support\u2022 Free TechNet subscriptionUsers of standard edition servers get unlimited Web support; Enterprise Edition servers add unlimited telephone support. Open Value customers get less.Deployment tools\u2022 Corporate error reporting\u2022 PreinstallationIT can internally catalog and evaluate error reports from software; installation tool supports mass rollout.Other benefits\u2022 Home-user rights\u2022 Employee purchase rightsEmployees of licensed companies can get free or low-cost software.