Thinking of MickeySoft's XP?


Fully vaccinated are you?
The Gripe Line
Ed Foster

A punitive puppeteer?

NOW THAT WE know Microsoft is going to remain one company, it seems an appropriate time to step back and take a look at the company's recent practices and what they tell us we can expect in the future.

Readers have had a wide variety of complaints about Microsoft on the Gripe Line during the last year or so. We've seen the Redmond giant quietly start forcing large OEMs to provide only recovery CDs for Windows, eliminate much of the free support it had provided for applications, invoke its license terms to keep an independent lab from publishing benchmarks, and harass whole sets of customers with demands for "voluntary" software audits. It has also announced wholesale changes to its volume licensing that appear ultimately to offer customers fewer choices and higher costs.

Is there a common thread running through these moves by Microsoft? Some readers believe they see where Microsoft is headed, and they don't like it. "I don't like the future I see Microsoft designing for us, and I [not only] do not steal software ... make my living writing and selling software," one reader wrote. "Now I see Microsoft being incredibly intrusive, uploading information from my machines without my consent or knowledge of when or what is being taken. ... My ZoneAlarm regularly catches them [at my computer via] Internet access when I am not running anything. When I installed OfficeXP, it started beating my hard disk with constant access ... . All of their additions seem to be aimed at destroying any real competition, and locking us into paying every year for the OS. Where is this heading? Pay for nothing new, no competition, rising prices for fewer packages in Office, the corporate intimidation police, and they still have the nerve to call us customers?"

Another link in the chain in the view of several readers is the forthcoming Windows product activation scheme for Windows XP. This figures to be a tremendous source of gripes from a variety of customers after the new OS ships, and some are already speculating about how Microsoft might choose to employ it in the future. "Color me cynical, but I believe Microsoft has a longer-term goal in mind than curbing piracy in casual installations," another reader wrote. "Microsoft has made it plain that they have a 'delta tracking capability in XP to see how your configuration changes at any given time, and if it changes too much, you have to reactivate your copy of the OS. Lots of potential there for annoyance, but here's a simpler (and costlier) extension of that. Suppose, at some point Microsoft decides to make infinitely granular versions of XP, and to do that it starts charging for activation keys based upon your system configuration? Your base system works fine with its original key, but add a large hard drive, or more memory, and product activation informs you that you have to reactivate. At that point, there's nothing to keep Microsoft from declaring that your new equipment constitutes an advanced configuration, requiring you to pay more in order to obtain an activation key that would enable you to use it."

If that seems outlandish, remember that many users already find themselves forced to buy a retail version of Windows because their PC manufacturer's recovery CD would not support new hardware. And the trend for Microsoft to innovate through its legal staff rather than through software developers could be abetted by product activation. "Imagine the boon Windows product activation promises for Bill's legion of lawyers," another reader wrote. "No more having to wait for the next major release when they want to change the EULA (End-User License Agreement). They can just send out a signal that disables everyone until they reactivate and click through the new terms ... Do you suppose this why Microsoft backs Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA)?"

Possibly. I've long believed that one of the main motivations behind Microsoft's enthusiastic support for UCITA has been the legal cover that law provides for the remote and/or automatic disabling of customers' software. While we're on the subject of license enforcement, let me throw in a term one alert reader just spotted in the license for FrontPage 2002. "You may not use the Software in connection with any site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia, or their products or services ... " the license reads in part. Good thing InfoWorld doesn't use FrontPage 2002 to post this column, I guess.

So let's see: Microsoft is trying to control how customers use OEM software, trying to control when customers upgrade its products, trying to control when customers upgrade their hardware, and trying to control what customers say about Microsoft. I think I see a pattern.

What we can expect from Microsoft in the future is more of the same. Every move the company makes seems to take us one step closer to a world where it is Microsoft that makes the decisions, not the customer. If we didn't know it already, it's pretty clear now that the courts aren't going to restrain Microsoft from controlling its market. The only one who can do that is the person starring back at you in the mirror.
Top Bottom