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  • More Silly Decisions from Microsoft

    February 6th, 2007

    You know, I got a lot of response to this week’s column, about some of Microsoft’s efforts to harden enforcement of its user licensing policies. Now before I go any further, let me tell you that they have the perfect right to impose any standard they see fit. If you agree to their licensing arrangement, by installing and using their software, they have the right to take appropriate action if you somehow violate the terms.

    Of course, few of you actually read those things, and I can assure you that I don’t do it all that much either, except to check a phrase or paragraph that seems particularly onerous.

    Now it is quite true that, when you buy an upgrade to an application or operating system at a reduced fee, because you have a previous version installed, most companies expect you to stop using the earlier version. Otherwise, you must pay the full price and do what you want.

    Over the years, this hasn’t meant a whole lot. People do it anyway, but now that many companies require online activation, things have changed. Whether it’s Microsoft, Adobe or another company, they reserve the right to refuse to activate the older version of their product if that’s what the terms state. No argument with that.

    However, Microsoft, which is rich and fat and has billions of dollars in spare change in the bank — or invested most probably — isn’t suffering from the loss of that extra money. Forcing you to pay an extra $100 for a full Vista license isn’t not going to change the lifestyles of Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer, and the company will remain hugely profitable regardless.

    However, you have to wonder whether or not Microsoft has declared war on its customers. At a time when Apple Inc. is ascendant, and Microsoft’s market share in the browser market is tumbling, they really ought to loosen up a little.

    Take that requirement that you can’t legally install a Home version of Vista on a virtual machine, such as Parallels Desktop. Does that really make sense from a practical standpoint? Not really.

    But the real problem here with Microsoft is that, in its efforts to be flexible, has actually confused the life out of people who really want to upgrade to Windows Vista, and do it in the proper legal fashion through either an upgrade or buying a new PC.

    You see, Microsoft has multiple Home and Business versions, with varying degrees of additional features and bundled applications at increasingly higher prices. At the low-end, you can pay a mere $199.95 to get the Vista Home Basic edition, which lacks such niceties as the full Aero interface. It may not make a difference if you have a PC that lacks the power for all the fancy (or perhaps overwhelming) 3D eye-candy.

    At the top of the heap, for $200 more, is Vista Ultimate. The intermediate versions, both Home and Business, provide varying degrees of enhancements allegedly to justify their increasingly higher price-tags.

    However, the actual DVD you get is the same. The only difference is the user license number that will unlock various installation scenarios. That means you could buy Home Basic, decide it’s not for you, and call Microsoft and pay for a higher version, which will provide the serial number you need to get all the extras you really wanted.

    Now I don’t pretend to know how much money they squandered on producing so many Vista variants, but it wasn’t cheap, and each specific version creates a new opportunity for additional software conflicts and other manifestations of aberrant behavior. Besides, how many people, even IT managers, can recite the differences without looking down at their notes?

    Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. Wouldn’t just a Home and Business version be sufficient? Yes, I know Microsoft wants you to be able to customize your Vista experience as much as possible, but this policy doesn’t engender flexibility as much as it engenders confusion.

    And adding progressively more draconian licensing also works against the customer, and that’s you and me, since I bet a lot of you must exist in both the Mac and Windows worlds.

    In all fairness, Apple does things too that you might not like. I find their upgrade policies for operating systems and consumer applications not to make a bit of sense. For the most part, there’s no upgrade policy at all, unless you bought a new Mac on the day an operating system upgrade ships, and it came with the previous version.

    You just pay and pay all over again. But few of you are complaining, because Apple’s operating system prices are generally cheaper than Microsoft’s; that is to consumers. PC makers get operating system licenses dirt cheap.

    Of course, if Microsoft wants to continue to wage war against its customers, maybe some of you will just say no! That will show them, but good!

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