Most ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) develop their software for one of Microsoft’s platforms like Windows or .NET. This makes sense because Microsoft’s platforms are highly widespread and the market is much bigger than the market for Linux or Mac OS X. If you develop for Windows, especially if you are developing shrink-wrapped software, you should test your product on as many different Windows versions, service packs and configurations as possible to ensure that your software runs on most Windows installations.
But how do you get all the needed Windows versions, service packs, updates and SDKs? The best and easiest way to receive these things is to get a MSDN subscription. A MSDN subscription includes almost all Microsoft operating systems, development tools, server products and documentation. Although you only receive development and testing licenses and are not allowed to use these versions on production systems, this is still a good deal.
Now, a Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition with MSDN Premium subscription (formerly known as MSDN Universal Subscription) retails for about USD $2,500 per user. This means that for a software shop with five developers, it would cost USD $12,500 per year to get all the required development and testing licenses – and this doesn’t even include production licenses for a workgroup server or something similar. This is quite expensive for an early-stage ISV. But since Microsoft really wants you to develop for their platforms, they started a partner program called Empower for ISVs to make all the needed licenses available for a fraction of the costs.
Introducing Empower for ISVs
The Microsoft Empower for ISVs program is designed for early-stage software businesses and includes software licenses and support. You actually have to develop and plan to sell a software product in order to qualify for this program. But if you are starting a software business or are a growing small ISV, this is the best offer you will get.
Let’s have a look at the details now. The Empower for ISV program normally costs USD $375 for one year. This membership fee varies by country. You get five full MSDN subscriptions, production licenses for Windows XP, Office, one license and 5 Client Access Licenses (or CALs for short) for Windows Server 2003, Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint. You receive all the benefits of a MSDN subscription like the subscriber DVDs, access to private newsgroups and a MSDN concierge service that helps you to find resources within the MSDN. Furthermore, it includes ten hours of a phone-based consulting service targeted at ISVs.
Included DVDs in the Empower for ISVs program
You have to fulfill some requirements in order to join the program. Microsoft demands that you have a working company website which at least briefly describes your company, includes your address and contact information. You also need to develop a software product for one of Microsoft’s platforms, announce it and sell it over the course of the program. I don’t actually think Microsoft enforces this somehow. If you plan a software product, but the project fails due to some reason, I doubt that Microsoft cares. However, you should only join the program if you actually plan to sell a software product, because Microsoft will at least check your website from time to time.
You can renew the Empower for ISV program after the first year for one additional year. All the licenses, in contrary to the normal MSDN subscription, expire when your membership in the Empower for ISV program ends. So it is advisable to renew the program when you are happy with the offer.
Joining the Program
You should always check the official Empower for ISVs website to get the latest information about joining the program. But as Microsoft websites are often quite confusing and overwhelming, I will give you a short overview over how to join the program.
Before joining the program, you will need a Microsoft Passport account. A MS Passport account is required for most of Microsoft’s member-only sites. After you signed up for a MS Passport account, you need to join Microsoft’s Registered Partner program. This is free and will only take a few minutes. When you are finally a Registered Partner, it is time to enroll in the Empower for ISVs program.
You will have to enter your credit card details for the partner program fees during the signup. You should make sure that your
website is up and running because a Microsoft employee will check the site before accepting you into the program. When everything works and you are accepted for the program, you will receive your box with DVDs with lots of Microsoft software after a few weeks (we got ours after 5 weeks, if I recall correctly). You can also connect your MS Passport account to your MSDN subscription and then login to the MSDN website to download all the latest betas, updates etc.
After Empower for ISVs
When you renewed your subscription for another year and are facing the end of your subscription period, you have some options to continue receiving licenses cheaper than the retail prices. Probably your best bet is becoming a certified partner. This includes MSDN subscriptions and additional licenses for an annual fee. As ISV you have to fulfill some special easy-to-meet requirements in order to become a certified partner.
So, before you purchase a MSDN subscription or production licenses, always check the available partner programs from Microsoft. You, as an ISV, get very favorable deals.
Updated: A reader notified me that I forgot to mention another requirement of the ISV Empower program. Microsoft requires that you become a Certified Partner when the program ends:
“Upon expiration of your membership, make a reasonable commercial effort to join the Microsoft Partner Program at the Certified level or above with the ISV/Software Solutions Competency, earned by successfully passing one of the software tests authorized by Microsoft [..].” (Link)
Please note that additional costs may apply. Nonetheless, I still think the Empower program is a good deal and becoming a Certified Partner is a good way to get Microsoft licenses when the ISV Empower program ends.