Tracking Windows desktop software is a common IT support problem. But while large businesses can usually afford software inventory tools, small businesses may find it hard to justify the cost. For those with only a few PCs, Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer (MSIA) can help. What’s more, it’s free!

MSIA scans your PC for core Microsoft software and then generates a summary report that lists any products it finds on your machine. Once you know what you have, you can then use the MSIA wizard to fill in the license information for each package found.

Download MSIA for free

MSIA can be installed, for free, on any number of single PCs. You can download the MSIA setup software here.

MSIA and confidentiality
Microsoft says MSIA is a way to confidentially inventory your software. However, running any software, including MSIA, over the Internet, could compromise your organization’s privacy. While there are no guarantees, it’s probably best to run MSIA offline, as this article explains. Furthermore, any updates to the MSIA software should not be downloaded through the MSIA Wizard, but rather, a new download copy of MSIA should be saved to a Zip disk, CD, or other media, and then reinstalled individually on each machine.

Scanning with MSIA
You can access MSIA after installation by clicking Start | Programs | Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer. The MSIA Wizard appears as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

MSIA can scan machines locally or over a network and allows you to download updated data files from Microsoft. If your copy of MSIA is several months old, you should consider updating your data file. I recommend, however, downloading the entire MSIA application from Microsoft’s MSIA Web site and then reinstalling that copy on each machine, instead of running an update over the Internet.

MSIA allows you to choose which Windows applications it scans for by selecting the appropriate package(s) and clicking the Add button, as shown in Figure B. If you’re not sure what’s on your system, it’s probably a good idea to just click the Select All box and scan for all of them. This will ensure that current licenses will correspond to what’s installed on your systems.

Figure B

Once you’ve selected the products MSIA should scan for, you will be asked to select a report format(s) and the folder where the report(s) will be saved (see Figure C). If you select HTML format, IE 4.0 or later must be installed. If you select Excel, Excel 97 or above must be installed. If neither IE 4.0 nor Excel 97 is available, MSIA can generate the report in text format.

Figure C

After confirming your choices, MSIA scans your system. When the scan concludes, MSIA gives you the option of entering your license information, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Entering your license information
If you want to enter your license information, click the License button to display the License Information box that lists the software MSIA found on your system (see Figure E). Clicking on an item in the list displays a series of boxes, which can be filled in with the number of licenses you have for that item.

Figure E

Determining which licenses you have is up to you and may require a little digging. Some of your license information may be on paper (invoices, certificates of authority, manuals, etc.), while some may be found installed on the machine (e.g., I found one application’s EULA under its Help menu). OEM license information is sometimes printed on a label stuck to the computer’s case. If you’re not sure what type of license you have, check out Microsoft’s Licensing guide.

After entering my license information, I clicked OK to make it available to MSIA and clicked Finish (see Figure D) to complete the reports. Figure F shows a portion of a sample HTML report.

Figure F

If you come up short or have licenses for products you are no longer using, their numbers will appear in the (Deficiency) Excess column, with a Web link to information on Microsoft volume licensing pricing.

If you wish, you can click on the Click Here To Add/Update License Purchase Information link to update your licensing information. This will bring you back to the dialog box shown in Figure D. Note, however, this link is only available in the HTML version of the report.

Clicking on the machine name at the bottom of the report will display a machine report that lists the actual executables (e.g., excel.exe) MSIA found to identify the software installed on your system. It also lists any OEM license numbers it detected.

Get ready for the next upgrade
If you are in a situation where you have to justify upgrade costs or new licenses for a small number of stand-alone or networked PCs, then MSIA may be just what you need to get started. It’s easy to install and use and can be run on a single machine or across a network.

How do you track your licensing?

If you’ve used MSIA, share your thoughts and opinions with your fellow TechRepublic members. If you’re not using MSIA, what do you use and why? Post a comment or send us a note.