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Linux looks better every day

Microsoft’s gouging will cause mass migration to Linux. 5/14 ReleVents hed: Linux looks better every day dek: Microsoft’s gauging will cause mass migration to Linux. By James Mathewson

I know I have a reputation as a Microsoft basher, and it is perhaps well-deserved. Microsoft makes itself an easy target. And, on slow news days, analysts need easy targets. Even though I would rather write about a lot of other stuff in the computing world, often I am forced to fall back on the old standby.

The bash du jour is Microsoft’s recently announced application rental scheme. As Nelson King explains, Microsoft is replacing its old unlimited license scheme with one that puts a term on a software licenses. Whereas several people in our organization still use five-year-old Word applications, the new scheme would force upgrades on a three-year cycle, whether they need to or not.

As a news item on our site today outlines, over the long term this will cost many companies twice as much as they currently pay for applications. In and of itself, this might seem like a good plan for Microsoft. It can leverage existing customers for more revenue without actually needing to upgrade its products. Kind of like the textbook writer who changes a couple of sentences and calls it a new edition on a four-year cycle.

But placed in context, I think this is a bad move for Microsoft. Remember all the bad press Microsoft got late last year when eWeek surveyed enterprise MIS directors? Despite patch-a-day security on Windows 2000, their number-one beef with Microsoft was overcharging for Office. Most of the thousands of IS managers surveyed said they thought Microsoft overcharged on Office by at least $100 per license. That’s not chump change for a 1000-seat shop. Though this story may seem like old news, you can bet those attitudes have not gone away.

It seemed Microsoft was hoping their customers’ memories were short when it announced the program for Office XP. When it got the reply you would expect if you had followed the journals for the past year (“No way, we won’t pay!”), it changed its tune in a hurry, saying it will use Australia as a test case for the plan and putting it on hold in the United States for the time being. Still, we can expect this plan for Windows XP and other operating systems aimed at corporate customers.

Now add this little bit of context. A lot of IS managers polled by eWeek last year said they planned to test Linux in certain work groups as a remedy for escalating application and OS costs in the enterprise. By now, many of these tests are near completion and, based on the limited trials we have conducted, a lot of managers will be pleasantly surprised by the combination of Linux and StarOffice, especially when they look at the bottom line for 1000 or more seats.

The closer Linux and its application base get to providing real competition for Microsoft, the lower the chances of Microsoft gouging consumers and businesses. At present, it can almost charge what it wants and change its standard license agreements at will. Hopefully, Linux will soon become a real option for enterprise desktops, and Microsoft will once again need to earn every sale.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser.com and ComputerUser magazine.

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