Feeling let down by Microsoft

Microsoft's new licensing model is making me feel like a lemming and I don't like it. The old "it's cheaper this way if you upgrade every three years" argument doesn't really hold water for me

Life just isn’t as straightforward as it ought to be. No sooner do I make a deep and difficult philosophical — and business — decision than something comes along that causes me to completely re-evaluate my thinking.

I’ve spent many years resenting Microsoft’s death grip on the desktop. It’s not the monopoly thing or the size thing — there are bigger tech companies out there and, besides that, kicking against the big guys simply because they are the big guys has never held much interest for me.

I’m not an open source zealot either — I’ve worked with enough gun-slinging (yes, seriously) Linux freaks to be extremely cautious about how, when and where free software should be used in business. (Having said that, I’ve used Linux in several applications and it works really well. I just hadn’t imagined seeing it on every corporate server and desktop anytime soon.)

It’s not even the security thing. Sure, every little wannabe on the planet is writing macro viruses and looking for holes in Outlook and IIS to exploit, but that’s just a product of popularity; it doesn’t necessarily mean that Microsoft products are inherently insecure.

To cut a long story short, it’s just that with its history on things like thin clients, TCP/IP, the internet and Java, Microsoft’s approach to the technology business has never sat well with me.

The deep philosophical decision I made last year was to accept that Mr Softee’s approach to life was fundamentally different from my own but that I shouldn’t necessarily allow that to affect my purchasing decisions.

Why? What Microsoft does really well is produce a bunch of products that work really well together. It doesn’t necessarily play well with others, but on its own, the company’s great. Having Windows on the desktop and Windows in the data centre has saved me a huge number of management and administrative headaches. Also, its critical mass out in the marketplace is a good thing — there’s safety in numbers (unless you’re a lemming, I guess) — and the fact that all the folks we do business with use the same desktop apps makes it easy to do business with them.

So what’s my point? I’m feeling let down. I’m starting to feel like I made the wrong decision. It’s Microsoft’s new licensing model, to be precise. It’s making me feel like a lemming and I don’t like it. The old “it’s cheaper this way if you upgrade every three years” argument doesn’t really hold water for me. I used Office 4.3 up until last year. Now I’m no Luddite, but on a good day I’d only use about 5% to 10% of the functionality of Office. I only upgraded to Office 2000 because everybody else had — there were no “productivity benefits” for me, I just needed to be able to open the files everyone was sending me. I’d argue that the majority of the rest of the world would be the same. Why would I want to pay in advance for upgrades that I don’t want or need?

After a number of years of pushing desktops and personal productivity applications out into the business and, more recently, having gotten the company’s Microsoft stack current, I’m now faced with the task of justifying a significant expenditure to stay there. My feeling is that the numbers do stack up, but at a cost of the best part of a grand per desktop for the next two years cover for Windows, Office and a share of the data centre stuff, staying current is not exactly a cheap exercise.

Microsoft needs to be careful. Open source (and its accompanying integration and administration issues) is starting to look pretty good again.

Personally, I’m making a protest and I’ve rebuilt my home PC with Solaris 8 and StarOffice. I have to report that it’s gone reasonably well. If I can just get my dial-up working (notoriously difficult in Solaris although the guys from SolNet say it’s a recognised weakness and Sun is working on making it better) I’ll be feeling completely smug and righteous. Whether the same thing might be practical in business is another story but I think it’s worth a look.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send email to Jim Swanson. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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