Microsoft is cutting off low-cost software licenses via its TechNet Subscription services, which it will halted on Aug. 31, 2013. The move, purportedly to stave off piracy and license violations, may also end up alienating developers and power users without deep pockets.

That day will be the last anyone can purchase new subscriptions on the site. Subscribers will have until Sept. 30 to activate paid-for subscriptions. Existing subscribers can still use their Microsoft software until their subscription period runs out.

If you've never used a TechNet subscription, this won't affect you at all. But for the thousands of developers and system administrators who relied on the relatively low-cost annual subscriptions, it's going to be a pain in the butt.

TechNet subscribers were able to access a slew of Microsoft software, including licenses for Windows and Office, for "evaluation" purposes. The cost was pretty low, with TechNet Standard rates beginning at $199 and renewing at $140 annually, and Professional costing $299 with a subsequent $249 renewal rate.

But what usually ended up happening was that TechNet subscribers would use their subscriptions to maintain machines with Microsoft software in production environments in perpetuity.

Such use would violate the terms of the TechNet agreement. TechNet license keys were also reportedly getting resold to other buyers. If that TechNet-licensed software was ever audited, the third-party buyer would be at serious risk. Not to mention that most subscription licenses would shut off after a year's time.

Microsoft's new tactic is to simply give away free evaluation copies of their software, but with licenses that are much more time limited. These no-cost evaluations, available through the TechNet Evaluation Center, would be full versions, but would cut off after 90 or 120 days' time.

Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) participants will still be able to get license subscriptions through MSDN's own program, but the Operating Systems subscription, which is the lowest tier MSDN program, runs for $699 with a $499 annual renewal rate.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has changed its TechNet program to stem the tide of pirated software coming from the relatively inexpensive TechNet program. Apparently, though, it's just easier to kill off the whole program and let developers and admins buy their own licenses.

The timing of the revelation, one week after the Microsoft Build developer conference, is interesting. Such news would have surely caused some grumbles at the conference. While Microsoft is well within its rights to try to control pirated software, the changes to TechNet will cause a higher barrier-to-entry for some developers who might actually need longer-term licenses for a low cost.

Trevor Pott, author of the Sysadmin blog over at The Register, summed up the problem best:

The message is crystal clear: if you want to test Microsoft software on anything excepting disposable short-term "free evals," then you will do it in the cloud and you'll pay for the privilege. Can't afford to subscribe to the cloud for a test lab? MSDN a little too pricy, or the restriction to development use too severe? Too bad.

Pott argues that this is all part of Microsoft's attempt to disengage with low-margin consumer and small business customers, who are increasingly shifting to mobile apps, in order to focus its efforts on high-end enterprise customers who still need "traditional" desktop applications in volume.

Make no mistake: this isn't an arrogance born out of a belief that it retains a monopoly on the desktop, the Office productivity suite, or the server market. It is a wholesale shift in approach in recognition of its loss of monopoly.

If you have wondered how Microsoft would react to the continued decline of the PC desktop market, this may be one of the ways forward for Redmond. Too bad it could leave a lot of less-affluent technologists stranded.