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Can you help me with my software licensing question?

I am a member of a team developing a third party application (APP) that listens for and services connections from remote devices via TCP. Also, some of these remote devices allow 1 or more users to interact with the remote device. On some of the remote devices, it is impossible for a user to interact with the device.

The user/remote device makes no use of any Windows Server service - not DHCP, not IIS, not File Server, not Print Serer, not AD. The remote device's only connection to the Windows Server machine is through the APP's TCP ports.

Our company has no interaction with Microsoft. We do not have a Microsoft sales team. Past inquiries have determined that it is cheaper for us to buy Microsoft software (and CALs) retail than to enter into any kind of "arrangement" with Microsoft.

I have many questions about SQL Server CALs and Windows Server 2008 CALs.

How can I obtain authoritative/legally binding answers?

I am not looking for FREE legal advice. I AM looking for FREE advice about who/what/where I can responsibly spend my money to get meaningful information. I fear that passing this on to the local company law firm will just mean that I will be paying them to educate themselves on Microsoft licensing. And if that's like writing code to a new Microsoft API - they are not going to get it right the first time.

Going to Microsoft for answers sounds like swimming up to a hungry shark and asking "One leg or two?" I am hoping someone has been down this road before and knows a law firm/lawyer that is experienced in these matters.

Any help/suggestion welcome. Thanks.


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marked as duplicate by Skyhawk, Mark Henderson Nov 14 '11 at 2:32

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

CDW has some MS license experts on staff. Try giving them a call. – Alan Aug 19 '09 at 19:23
+1 for mentioning CDW. They have been an indispensable resource for me. – Nic Nov 8 '09 at 10:00

I honestly don't see how your application is that much different from any other web-based service (such as a data driven website, for instance, which - in a nutshell - services TCP requests from remote devices and allows them to interact with a database - and not necessarily using IIS either (Apache, for example, can run on Windows). The Server and SQL licensing model that applies to a such a website should also apply to your scenario.

You might not like this, but Microsoft themselves are the best authoritative source of info here, but they don't really bite as bad as I think you think they do. A call to their local customer or sales rep saying "I want to do this and I want to buy retail, what are my licensing options?" might be all that you need. I've been dealing with them for over 10 years now, and they have seriously never once jumped up from under my desk and shouted "RARR!" at me. In fact I generally find their sales and business/customer relationship folks to be friendly, courteous and helpful, and very willing to bend over backways to assist you in getting the result you want.

Their online licensing FAQ is also very good and Plain English, e.g. here's a quote from the Windows Web Server 2008 page (at

Windows Web Server 2008 licensing is enhanced to allow any type of database software on the server software with no limit on the number of users.

That in itself might be sufficient to give you the full end-result you want here.

Thanks for the input. One way our app is different from any other web-based app is that IIS is not involved. While that does not impact SQL Server CALs and Microsoft's "multiplexing(sic)" rules, we are less clear about how that impacts Windows Server 2008 CALs. As for the good heart of Microsoft...they have already jumped up from under a customer's desk and shouted "RARR!" so getting answers from Microsoft is just not an option. I am really looking for someone who has successfully managed an adversarial relationship with the big M and their obfuscated licensing rules. – user17455 Aug 19 '09 at 18:28

As @mh says, Microsoft is the authority here, and i'll add that they're probably less expensive than paying an attorney to wade through the muck for you. Also check the Microsoft CAL Guide.

In regards to clients using your specific application, there may be a distinction between anonymous and authenticated access. See this Jim Boyce article on Understanding Client Access Licenses.

For a starter on software licensing etc. from a legal perspective, maybe look at Software License Agreements, Definitions.

Another potential source of information is Dan Bricklin, who had a Software Licensing Podcast several years ago.

There's some tangential information in a CAL question at joelonsoftware.

IANAL and can not necessarily vouch for these people, so use at your own risk, etc. etc.:

Yeah, Microsoft being the authority is the REAL problem here. Thank you for the links, the first one is well known around these parts and is one of the many, many, Microsoft authorized sources of confusion. The others I will attempt to read and digest, but being a programmer and not a lawyer, I would really like to have a member of the Bar who can be the missing portion of my brain on these issues. And yes the distinction between anonymous and authenticated is one of the murkiest points of confusion - murkier still when the authentication authority is not Microsoft code. – user17455 Aug 19 '09 at 18:40
@Ray, i've added some additional links. I haven't ever read the software lic blog, but there appears to be a lawyer behind it, so... who knows? Then a few lawyer search sites that might get you hooked up. – bill weaver Aug 19 '09 at 19:12
@bill Thank you. Much obliged. – user17455 Aug 19 '09 at 19:24