For many of these machines, companies are still paying monthly or annual license fees for the software installed on them unused machines, analysts said.
There are processes that can be implemented to effectively deal with those issues, analysts say, but such projects become much more difficult with the loss of experienced workers.
Unemployment in the UK topped 2 million last week and Forrester analyst Peter O’Neill says that as a rule of thumb, half those laid off are knowledge workers.
"A knowledge worker usually has a copy of Microsoft Office, so you can make a direct correlation" between the number of layoffs at a company and the number of software licenses outstanding, he said.
A software budget survey by Forrester conducted between December 2008 and February 2009 and due to be released soon, will show that more than one in five businesses that audited their software over the past year are paying for at least some unused software, or shelfware.
At the same time, the Forrester survey of 776 U.S., European and Asian companies found that only 35% of the respondents were using a third-party firm to audit software licenses, so the percentage of companies with unused software is likely to be even higher.
O'Neill said that the survey also found that, on average, 15% of corporate software maintenance payments are for licensed shelfware.
"At the end of the day, I'd say almost every company ... [has] shelfware," said O'Neill, who is based in Germany. The situation in Europe is worse than in the US, he said. “Many companies have no comprehensive, well-documented end-of-life programme for hardware and software."
He called the lack of such programmes "a business oversight now coming to light as the recession deepens."
O'Neill suggested that companies may have an easier time solving the software licensing problem, because vendors that would never have considered renegotiating a software contract two years ago have softened and are now likely to rework deals to keep customers.
"This year especially, [software vendors] are highly dependent on maintenance ... and that's dependent on the relationship with customers," he said. "Even Microsoft these days probably doesn't feel that safe."