Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Just found this on C|net. Microsoft is going to be forcing people to verify that their copy of Windows is legit before they can download security patches. This is a great example of the short-sighted corporate wonks exerting themselves without understanding anything about marketplace dynamics. See, here's the deal...
The corporate wonks look out into the world and see piracy, particularly in communist and former communist countries like China and eastern Europe. "Horror!" they cry. "We're losing millions and maybe even billions of dollars. Why, if everybody in China is pirating a copy of Windows, that's over $200B right there. It's our duty to our shareholders to crack down on all that."
When I look out at the world, I see lots of Microsoft advertising. The reality is, Microsoft is the only company that is able to extract a "tax" from the PC industry as a whole. Just about every computer is shipped with a copy of Windows, and most computers also have a version of Office, whether pre-installed or as a post-buy add-on. These installation rates are the same, whether the PC is sold in the USA where things are mostly legit, or whether it's sold in China where the copies are probably pirated. In my mind, the pirated copies are just advertising for Microsoft and help ensure they remain dominant. Kill off the pirates and you actually may create a problem for yourself.
See, when you're the default for a whole industry, the last thing you want to do is rock the boat and make people actually think about choosing your product. If you force them to a choice, you're re-opening the buying decision that was otherwise a done deal. Nevermind that in China they weren't paying you for your product. The usage of Windows and Office in China helps proliferate the number of programs and files in Office format that help the world-wide monopoly to stay in power. And as long as you have a world-wide monopoly, you get to charge the mostly-honest guys in North America and western Europe the "PC tax."
If Microsoft rocks the boat, as it looks like they are doing, one of two things will happen:
- People who previously would have chosen Windows by default will now look for other cheaper alternatives such as Linux. This will happen even if Microsoft creates a special "Windows 3rd World," priced at obscene discounts to regular Windows. Anything more than free is going to force the choice because most of the pirates in the third world can't afford to pay for all of it anyway (sure, a few can, but not nearly in proportion to the copying). Once people start to choose, it's a snowball that keeps rolling, and it isn't going in your favor. Rather than more programs written for Windows and documents in Office file formats, you'll see a growing base of Linux and OpenOffice. At some point the industry reaches a tipping point and Microsoft's hold is broken.
- The other alternative is that people will still pirate Windows, but they'll just ignore the security updates. This is also bad for Microsoft. All those Chinese PCs are going to be chock-full of viruses and worms and that's only going to perpetuate the image of Windows being a security problem. Yes, yes, those are unlicensed copies, but they're still Windows and they still highlight the Windows security problem, no matter what Microsoft says. Further, when those PCs get so burdened with those viruses, they'll get slow and crash all the time. Even the Chinese pirates want PCs that work and they'll start looking for stable alternatives.
So, either way Microsoft is just shooting themselves in the foot. The lesson here: when you have a good thing going, you'd best shut up and take the money. Trying to maximize your gain, thinking that people actually like your software is a poor bet, and you'll eventually be the worse for it.
That said, I use Linux almost completely now, so I'd actually like to see the world tip more in that direction. The Linux solutions are quite competitive to anything in the Windows world, run far faster, and are more stable. That wasn't the case as recently as five years ago, but things have come a long way of late.
You are right, specially about the second. I don't see the world switching in masse, and i don't care that much.
What i really care is about viruses and the like, that's a real problem that MS is throwing on our faces.
There's a contradiction between two of MS's goals - make money now, and preserve their monopoly for the future. Almost anything they can do to further one of those goals hurts their chances with the other.
I'll always bet on short-sighted greed to win. It's nothing new. Remember what happened to the goose that laid the golden egg?
As a Linux user, I say bring it on.
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