MSDN Universal Really Necessary

Hello Experts,

I am a director whose code-slinging days are long gone.  My company recently hired a developer to build a web-based app for end users to securely share funds (cannot elaborate any more at this point on the app).  He is insisting on the MSDN Universal subscription.  

The only difference that I can see between the Universal subscription and the Enterprise subscription is the former includes test licenses for - BizTalk Server, Application Center, ISA Server, SharePoint Portal Server, Mobile Information Server, Content Management Server Developer Edition, Systems Management Server, Customer Relationship Management and Microsoft Operations Manager
AND it includes VS .Net Enterprise Architect (vs .Net Developer for the later)
AND it includes MS Office, Visio Pro and Project (and a few other products that we do not use)

I need to keep people productive but I also need to keep costs down.  Can any one see any reason why Universal would be required?

Thanks and regards,

Who is Participating?

Let me make some guesses as to the kind of software you are writing from your short description.

You clearly have a web application and probably mix it with static HTML pages.  You are storing customer data, including highly sensitive data like addresses, credit cards, etc.  You are probably linking the application with one or more banking institutions for handling monetary transactions.  You are maintaining a database to store all of this information.

So, given all that guesswork here is where I would use the pieces in MSDN Universal:

Visual EA:  Probably a little overkill.  The Professional version has all he probably needs unless you are writing applications for the BizTalk or Commerce Servers.  However, you don’t get Visio EE with just Visual Studio Professional so you don’t get the ability to do Database round-trip design and UML round-trip engineering in Visio (the former it does pretty well, the latter not so well).  The Professional costs $1,079.

Visio EE.  Visio is a wonderful tool for programmers for diagramming from UML to flowcharts (ugh) to database design to data center layout.  I use this tool weekly (daily during some parts of a project).  I have used it for database modeling and I like it (it compares well with some of the vertical applications like ERWin at a fraction of the cost) and have only read about the UML round-trip engineering limitations.  I also use it for UML diagramming, data modeling, some general drawing, etc.  Visio Enterprise Edition costs $999.

Microsoft Office.  I don’t know if you standardize on a different platform for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. but Office would clearly provide those for your developer.  These are not optional tools in my opinion.  Office Standard Edition is $400.

MSDN.  I assume you are doing some Windows application programming.  For this the MSDN is invaluable.  It’s less invaluable these days because of the wonderful features they have added to the MSDN web site in the past few years, but the integration with Visual Studio, the ability to install many servers without paying extra for licensing, etc. still makes it necessary.  The MSDN Operating Systems Subscription is $699.

Just looking at these few products that can be easily justified you come to $3,177.  Now, these are the retail prices and I’m sure you can cut some of them substantially, but other posters here have said that they have seen MSDN Universal significantly discounted as well.  

There are many, many other products that are part of the Universal subscription as well.  Microsoft also adds new products and betas to the Universal subscription all the time.  The question is, compared to what you are paying this developer; the cost of tools is a fraction.  Let’s do a quick calculation, shall we?

Let’s say you are paying your developer $60,000 per year.  That comes to a rough estimate of $29 per hour.  So, let’s say you can get an average discount of 25% on the tools, individually.  That would mean you still spent $2,383.  That leaves a difference (from the retail price of $2,799) for MSDN Universal at $416.  This means that the remainder of the tools and applications would only have to save your developer a whopping 14 hours *per year* to pay for itself.  And that assumes you don’t buy Universal at a discount.

My motto has always been to over tool a project.  A couple of days spent idling while we purchase that one thing that we didn’t know we would need can chew up the cost of pre-emptive tool purchasing very quickly.  Developers should get fast computers, big monitors, high-end keyboards, special input devices, whatever they feel is necessary to do the best job they can.  This doesn’t mean there should be no justification just that it doesn’t make sense to worry about tool costs in the long run.

About your sub-question regarding Visio.  Here are some articles and other info that discuss VS & Visio to varying degrees:

This comes down to a matter of trust.  Why not ask the developer how the added features will be used?

Also, how does the $600 difference compare to other corporate expenditures, viewed in their relative importance to this project?

I'm reminded of an old IT saw:
Good, fast, cheap - pick two.
jtinklerAuthor Commented:
Thank you for response.  Unfortunately, the old saw is all too familiar.  The trouble is he is being quite general in his response that very question regarding the features.  He made a general statement that he can use Visio and its built-in UML template to model the system and then generate code from the model – I don’t know if the product has that capability or not - my gut tells me no.  I also don’t think he needs all of the test platforms – in this case.
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If he's equivocating, then he doesn't really know.  At best, he just suspects and his hedging his bets.

In that case, if the $600 is no small matter, just tell him, in your best conspiratorial tone, that you simply can't scrape together the extra bucks.

If it turns out later something extra is needed, be ready to take the hit from your management.

That's one of the reasons why, after 5 years managing 30 prima donna programmers, I went back to being a tech weenie.
jtinklerAuthor Commented:
LOL.  I can relate.  Between him and some of the users I have it is much like herding a bunch of spoiled cats.  Given the political nature of the whole I'm tempted to toss the cost back in the lap of his department and just forget about it - but then that whole fiscal responsibility thing kicks in.  If you ever run across someone who knows if you can gener some code using Visio UML models that would be great to know.

Glad to hear it is possible to go back to being a tech weenie if push comes to shove.  With all the off-shore nonsense, I've about had it with the IT biz.
I was fortunate to be a manager back when government contracts for IT were all cost plus.  The plethora of fixed price per labor hour contracts today I want no part of.


Well, I've heard of Visio.  Never used it.  Never heard of UML.  Worthless toad that I am.  I did, however, see an MSDN bug report about code generation in Visio:

"When you use the Unified Modeling Language (UML) software diagram template that is included with Visio 2002 to generate Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET) code..."

So that looks promising.


Geek level programmers don't have to worry too much about outsourcing, in particular those with significant amounts of gray hair. For uh, 'seasoned' programmers who write down at the OS level, the market is still pretty much as it was for everybody back in the 70's.  The poor sods being creamed by outsourcing are the ones writing inventory reports in VB.


jtinklerAuthor Commented:
Ah - good catch on the MicroSquish KB search.  I was looking at their web-based doc's to try to figure out what kind of code could be gener'd using Visio - never thought to look for a bug report - though it is not surprising to me that something turned up ;-)

So the fool thing can gener some code - I've always been a bit suspicious of those tools any way - of course I cut my teeth on COBOL, CICS, Assembler and JCL on MVS in the mid-80's to mid-90's - before people got all excited about GUI's and the like.

For sure the VB-folks and paper MCSEs are getting mopped up by the shops in India and China.  'Bout the only valid area for skills re-tooling - for me any way - is the security game.  It would take way too long for me to become proficient in a more popular lang like C and its variants (++ and #).

Thanks for your help!  

BTW - I am new to the site - how do I award you the points?
Why are you just looking at Universal for the developer? It IS a great resource for developers, but your network admins should also have access to a Universal Sub.  Most of the professional developers I know have a Sub of their own (I do). I am a contract developer, so that may be a little diferent then an employee. Consider that the Universal Sub includes VS Enterprise Architect (almost the same cost as the sub), as well as all the other toys, and you can most likely justify it.


Your're right, in that there doesn't seem a huge difference between the two subscriptions, but then Universal will give you pretty much everything and especially good for enterprise development.

MS have been doing a ISV Partner Program these last couple of years that allow a company to sign up and get 5 Universal licenses for only $375 (for all 5). This was just for the first year, but last time I checked they had extended it for two years.

A quote from their site: "Act now to receive one MSDN Universal Subscription media kit and five user licenses at the membership fee of US$375 (the membership fee varies by country)."

Alternatively, there are some very good deals on MSDN that will get you Universal for only around $600-$ just have to shop around on the web.

Hope of some use!

jtinklerAuthor Commented:
Thank you all for your time and responses!
hope it all works out
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