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Following commentary from other cloud providers, Microsoft is now drawing attention to its own licensing practices. A new policy exempts only AWS customers from additional fees to run Microsoft software in the AWS cloud.

Microsoft appears to be getting ahead of AWS users in a new user agreement. “Starting Aug. 1, 2023, users with dedicated licenses will be able to run Microsoft 365 enterprise/enterprise apps, Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio on Amazon WorkSpaces.” This eliminates the additional cost obligatory to run Microsoft 365 apps in another cloud than Microsoft’s.

Microsoft Azure users previously always benefited from the cheapest option to run Microsoft software. For this, the Windows builder introduced a policy in 2019 that drove up the cost for users of other cloud services. According to Google, the policy caused its cloud users to spend five times more money to run Microsoft software in Google Cloud.

Google initiated the lawsuit

The policy change will be a setback for Google. The competitor sued Microsoft earlier this year because of this alleged abuse of power. After all, the policy would ensure that customers never switch to a competing cloud provider. This time the complaint was addressed to the Federal Trade Commission in the US.

In Europe, Microsoft had previously been accused of the same practices. The company had no desire to explain its motivations to the European Commission and managed to avoid a lawsuit by changing its cloud licenses in Europe. According to AWS, however, the adjustments did not solve much. Adjustments were made to satisfy European regulators, but the products would still remain more expensive for customers not using Microsoft Azure.

Other cloud providers couldn’t bring themselves to accept the adjustments either. Microsoft sought a way out a few days later through direct communication. France’s OVHcloud, Italy’s cloud service provider Aruba and Denmark’s Cloud Community, an association of cloud service providers, were satisfied. Details of the deal were not made public.

One cloud gets an advantage

At least the change in policy removes that criticism for AWS. Microsoft itself does not reveal why only AWS customers benefit from the adjustment.

The licenses that can now run Microsoft software are Microsoft 365 E3/E5/A3/A5 and Microsoft Business Premium. AWS published a blog on the same topic, clarifying that users can run the software on Amazon WorkSpaces services. That is a cloud-based virtual desktop that lets the Windows operating system run on various devices, from Android to Mac.

Europe not convinced

Yet in the end, even Europe proved unconvinced by earlier changes to the policy. Consequently, a new investigation into the Redmond company’s policy is underway. As a result, the Office 365 and Microsoft 365 packages will be scrutinized again. The investigation follows a complaint from Slack about the bundling of Teams in both packages.

Another part of the investigation focuses on the Windows maker’s licensing practices. An investigation is still necessary because a complaint from the Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers of Europe (CISPE) has not yet received closure. The group did not respond to Microsoft’s attempt at conciliation.

CISPE, however, normally gets supported by AWS. That doesn’t mean that the charges against the cloud service are now suddenly falling because Microsoft is pleasing this party. Francisco Mingorance, secretary general at CISPE, told The Register that the actions are insufficient: “Software licensing restrictions should be lifted for all cloud customers.”

Moreover, Microsoft’s surprising move further undermines arguments for the existence of licensing practices: “This news demonstrates that there is no technical reason why Microsoft can’t embrace fair software licensing quickly, and easily remove unfair licensing terms.” Thus, the license change does not appear to play in Microsoft’s favor.