Column: Microsoft persists with onerous NT 4.0 Workstation licensing terms

Microsoft appears to be persisting with licensing terms that limit to 10 allowable connections to Windows NT 4.0 Workstation.

I usually try to refrain from saying things like "I told you so," but guess what? I told you so.

I wrote in my column last week that Microsoft was going to limit Windows NT 4.0 Workstation so that it supports only 10 incoming IP connections per 10-minute period. Just before the column went to print, I had to add that Microsoft had apparently backed down from this misguided idea. But I added that, as we still hadn't seen the licensing terms, our sense of relief might be a little premature.

I was right: The iron fist has since emerged from the virtual velvet glove. The licence terms for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation RC2 (Beta B) state: "You may permit a maximum of 10 computers to connect to the Workstation Computer to access and use services of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, such as file and print services and peer Web services. The 10-connected maximum includes any indirect connections made through software or hardware that pools or aggregates connections."

Now we have the iron fist fully exposed, aimed straight at our noses and outlined in neon. These terms are downright stupid. Not only are they against what I perceive as the spirit of the market (and such things do matter), but they are essentially impossible to comply with. The problem with compliance is that any site that uses a proxy server could cause you to unknowingly violate the licence. But the true stupidity is that this ill-conceived and (let's call a spade a bloody shovel) cheap ploy damages Microsoft's standing in the market.

Many might snidely say, "What standing?" and mutter darkly about how Bill probably has 666 tattooed on his pocket protector. But the reality is that Microsoft just behaves in the best tradition of American entrepreneurship. The only people who seem to think this is improper behaviour are, I humbly contend, those who don't approve of success. Oh, and Janet Reno, who would probably like to surround the Redmond campus, lob a few tear gas grenades in there, and shoot the staff as they run out. But I digress.

By all means, complain that Microsoft's position is not acceptable to the market, that it is a breach of trust, of doubtful ethical standing or whatever, but please let us avoid the usual cries of "It's not fair." Let us be clear. Even if the licence terms are dubious and the motivation questionable, it is Microsoft's absolute right to do this. The company spent the money to develop the operating system, it promotes it, and it is the company's prerogative to license it any way it sees fit.

So what's the solution? It's simple: Don't buy NT Workstation. And don't buy Windows NT Advanced Server. Show your displeasure in the most effective way possible -- by how you spend your money. The alternatives? Unix. OK, well, perhaps that's not for everyone, but it is an option. How about OS/2? "OS/2?" you cry. Well, just think about it. IBM has been looking for a chance like this forever. The OS/2 Warp client, code- named Merlin, is due for release later this quarter and will include integrated Java support. This could be just the excuse IT folks need to tell Microsoft where to get off.

And then there's NetWare. For a total of US$995, you get NetWare 4.1 Runtime and the NetWare Web Server. A little creative pricing there, and Microsoft's hopes of owning the intranet/Internet market could be wiped out. And the next release of NetWare 4 will have built-in Java. The final release of Windows NT Workstation could have a different licence, but it's also possible Microsoft could be in the process of making one of its biggest mistakes ever. Stay tuned. This is going to be interesting.

(Gibbs is the president of Gibbs & Co, a consulting firm in Ventura, California. He is a regular visitor to New Zealand, appearing a fortnight ago as a keynote speaker at the Internet Expo and Conference staged by IDG Communications in Auckland. Contact him by email at mgibbs@gibbs.com.)

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