Microsoft cuts TechNet key allowance

Subscribers to Microsoft's TechNet service have received an unwelcome surprise - the number of keys they get for several product lines has dropped from 10 to a mere 2 without warning.

The money-saving move from Microsoft was first spotted by blogger Paul Thurrott, who was told by Microsoft that the sudden dip in keys was "a web site issue," and that when the problem was fixed "subscribers can request 10 keys again."

Sadly, that turns out not to be the case, with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley discovering that it's a policy move on Microsoft's part - and that TechNet Professional subscribers now only receive five keys, while TechNet Standard subscribers get just two.

The drop in key numbers affects a range of products that were previously available for installation on up to ten machines as part of a paid-for TechNet subscription, including Windows 7 and Office 2010 - and can mean that those subscribers who used up their allowance are now left with technically-illegal installations until they drop back down to their new, reduced allowance.

A Microsoft spokesperson described the move to limit the number of product keys as an attempt to "prevent software piracy," and further stated: "We believe this change maintains a sufficient number of product keys for the majority of our customers based on usage data, while greatly reducing the risk of piracy and counterfeiting."

The spokesperson also reminded TechNet subscribers that the keys are "intended to support software trial and evaluation," and shouldn't find their way into daily use in a production environment.

While the company apologised for "any inconvenience or confusion this action may have caused our customers," it has made it clear that the new reduced key allowances are here to stay - although confirmed that subscribers to the Microsoft Developer Network, or MSDN, won't see their allotment changed.