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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8 Responses to “More Silly Decisions from Microsoft”

  1. Matt says:

    When I read that I need the business edition of Vista to work with Parallels, it just convinces me to stay with XP. I want Windows for the few applications I have and to keep my kids satisfied when they come home from school. (I hope they see the light some day.) I don’t need Vista for that. Thanks to MacNightOwl for saving me $200 + bucks on something I don’t really want anyway.

  2. Paul Gorski says:

    Apple’s upgrade policies for many of its products is simple — there is no upgrade, just buy the full version. MacOS X and the iLife and iWork suites are priced about the same or lower than many upgrade prices from Microsoft and other companies. A least Apple “upgrades” are reasonably priced, unlike Vista upgrades. To Microsoft’s credit, the Student/Teacher edition of Office 2004 is reasonably priced though. But with the release of the Intel version of NeoOffice (OpenOffice) I’m using Office less and less.

  3. Tom B says:

    AAPL and MSFT both provide pretty consistant user experiences: with AAPL it is >95 % consistantly pleasant; with MSFT, from the time you open the box, it is never a smooth ride. I’ve used Macs for about 17 years and Windows machines for about 11, and I’d do Ubuntu before I’d suffer through ever actually OWNING a Windows machine. At least with Ubuntu, I’d know that someone, somewhere along the chain thought a little about the user.

  4. Kent says:

    I think Microsoft is trying to slow down the switchers to the Mac Platform by making it more expensive to run Vista using Parallels.

  5. Scott Schuckert says:

    I don’t really buy the initial premise of these articles, that enforcing upgrade policies is somehow “bad,” or that MS should cut us a break because they have “all that money”. Sort of like complaining because the car dealer actually takes possession of your trade-in.

    OTOH, almost everything ELSE Microsoft is doing is a bad idea for consumers and ultimately, for themselves:

    Why should a desktop OS cost $400 ? (more, in some cases, than the hardware that runs it)
    Why should this OS, which is supposedly worth $400, go to OEM’s (reputedly) for less than $50?
    For years, the implication was that Windows cost so much because they had to make up for stolen copies. Why did it get more expensive after product activation should have eliminated that?

    Finally, the whole “huge stack o’ versions” thing is to hide the true cost of the OS. They make it easy to upgrade because almost everyone will want or need to – simply to get the functionality that is included, I might add, with every copy of OS X. They hope that consumers will fail to do some kitchen math and realize the total cost.

  6. Andrew says:

    I find the versions a bit annoying as well. WHy should it cost an extra $100 to connect your PC to a domain? In the old days, if your PC had a network card, you could connect to a network, now we need a business version. Of course that problem existed in XP before with the home version unable to join a “business” network. Windows for Workgroups, Windows 9x and even the horrible Windows ME all could connect to a domain.

    The rest is easy, I don’t need or want media center, so I didn’t pay for it. Still, would it cost Microsoft any more to make it standard on Windows? Much as I hated paying the extra $100 for my “Professional” XP license, at least it gave me the best of what MS had to offer at the time. I have Vista Business now and, you guessed it, no media center, a feature included in the cheaper Home Premium version, though that one lacks the ability to connect to the domain.

    Why doesn’t Home Basic have Aero? Isn’t that the new Windows interface? Am I the only one who finds it strange that they are charging for eye-candy?

  7. SteveP says:

    I really have no knowledge of the various Vistas than gripes on Mac sites. But it seems to me that MS can do whatever they feel like and their reasons/justifications are fine. IF people don’t want the higher priced versions, don’t buy. If enough people don’t buy and MS sees that as a problem, pricing will change.
    IF it’s extra functionality, let people pay. Wouldn’t that be like Apple including iWork as part of the OS and increasing the price of the package – as some have suggested? What if instead they just included it on the same disk and you could pay additional $$ to “activate” it? Would people complain? Probably! They would say “It’s part of the OS. Why should I pay additional money?” Same as they do with Quicktime Pro. (But in that case they are correct! It should be part of the OS.) So they make iWork separate and everyone (mostly) is happy (mostly).

    But I still can’t take 10.4 off of my Mini and “upgrade” my iBooks 10.3 for free!

    Consider, too, that really, EVERY purchased version of OSX IS an upgrade. It’s ALWAYS being put on a Mac with a previous OS. So the price of the OS IS the “upgrade” price.

  8. Andrew says:

    Plug your iBook into your Mini with a FireWire cable, then boot the mini from your Tiger installer DVD and when the time comes, select your iBook as the destination drive. So long as your Mini is a G4 and not an Intel, you won’t have any trouble.

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