Saturday, February 17, 2007

Microsoft pulling an IBM with Vista?

(Summary: what I mean by "pulling an IBM" is for a seemingly unstoppable market dominater to so misjudge the market that the market move out from under them and they are left standing on ... well you get the picture)

Another new CPU+MoBo Combo
Well, I did it again ... my fairly newly upgraded A64 server is now an Intel Core 2 Duo E6300. My pretext was "I can use the A64 for my daughter's old Dell!" Last week I was home in Orange County CA and I realized the old Dell is just a 1200Mhz Celeron and just too slow for me. There is surprisingly little difference for 2 year old and 6 months technology. A new A64 with mobo and RAM is about $250-300, the E6300 with mobo and RAM is about $450.

But, wouldn't ya know - Murphy's Law. Windows XP Pro refused to reauthorize. Since I was moving from an AMD to Intel I needed to fix the OS on my hard drive. Perhaps I should have just reformatted instead of "repairing". Anyway, I got that dialog saying to telephone a Microsoft telephone number, wait umteen hours in queue, and talk to a friendly call-center person in a foreign country to obtain new authorization codes. Perhaps this was because this system just moved motherboards a few months ago, or perhaps it is part of a nudge towards Vista ... maybe if I call this number Microsoft will try to entice me with a low-cost Vista-Home CD (wink) knowing I'll later have to upgrade to a more expensive license. It would make perfect business sense.

I am still deciding what to do - for now I put Windows 2K back on one partition and am downloading a DVD.iso for Fedora Core 6 Linux. This gives me a good incentive to re-eval RedHat's branch of Linux. At work I started using RedHat 6.x back in 2002 on a second-hand IBM T20 notebook and finally moved to Ubuntu 5.x the summer of 2006 when the T20 died. Work gave me an HP NC6120 notebook; neither my old faithful Red Hat nor the new Fedora at that time could handle the LCD display. So I picked Ubuntu 5.04 because someone was offering a CD image preconfigured for the NC6120 notebook. It loaded sweetly and worked fine.

Does 1 Human need 11 Microsoft Licenses?
But back to Microsoft, lets see ... the licenses I own (or cause to be owned):
1 = Windows XP Pro OEM for my home "fun PC" - it came installed and "COA'd" on a used system I bought. It is now on it's 2nd CPU and 4th motherboard. Was an AMD XP but I upgraded to an A64 since I could reuse the DDR400 RAM and ATI AGP video card. I am waiting to see what AMD's next gen dual-core is like
2 = Windows XP Pro upgrade for my daughter's computer - a Dell which came with Win2000 Home license in 2001 or so. It's still on 1st CPU and motherboard, I'll be trying to move it to an A64.
3 = Windows 2000 Pro OEM on an old Dell 8200 notebook (of course 1st CPu and mobo)
4 = Windows XP Pro OEM on my "server PC" - also a 2nd hand unit which is the one that which won't reload. It's on it's 3rd CPU and 4th mobo (sweet, eh?)
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are at work ... I have 3 notebooks with Windows XP and 2 desktops with Windows XP. Sadly, 1 notebook and 1 desktop just run Linux so those 2 Windows XP Pro licenses are wasted, but it's not worth buying a small-business package without a Windows license since you don't really save any meaningful money.
Forget all of the old Windows 95 or 98 licenses which I scrapped along with the PC they ran on.

So in total, I have subsidized the Gates family charitable trusts for 9 copies of Windows XP and 2 copies of Windows 2000 (I have one XP upgrade). This isn't 10 computers for a small company of a dozen people ... this is 10 computers that basically "work for me". Some do testing; some development (cross-compiling), some live in various labs and on isolated networks. What more does Microsoft want from me? Well, more money each new year I guess. But the point is (as Sony and other DRM sellers are finding out), there is a fine line between correctly stopping piracy by people who MAY NOT buy your stuff anyway and chasing the people who DO buy your stuff away because they keep "losing" money by having to repay for what they already paid for. In other words, blocking "pirates" doesn't promise to increase your revenue as much as hosing your paying customers may decrease it.

I already STOPPED using Norton Anti-Virus on 3 of 4 computers because I had to telephone some support line in India every time I changed a motherboard. Now only my daughter's Dell has Norton Internet Security - that's the computer I upgraded to XP to gain "Limited Accounts". She is a bit too much like "Hello Kitty in Cyber-Space", if allowed she would go happily skipping along, downloading every flashy piece of spyware offered to her (by the way, she is in college!)

Does New MotherBoard+CPU mean New Computer?
I realize I am a member of a minority here. Most people buy a computer, use it for 3-5 years, and then buy a new computer complete with a new Windows license. I assume they think of the computer as a machine-thingy like a TV or toaster. To them, the idea that one buys a new computer and an new Windows licence makes sense. Come to think of it, I suspect most people don't even realize they paid a percentage of the new computer price for a new Windows license.

But I am one of those crazy fools who think of my computers as "services" or "helpers" independent of the hardware within. In fact they all have cute names (like amie, joey and cali) and cute little logo images cut from computer game screen shots. At home I have 3 systems or little electronic "helpers". I have my higher-wattage "fun PC" for gaming; my lower-wattage "worker PC" or server which runs 24/7; and my broken "portable PC" (a Dell notebook with broken internal fans so I have it strapped to a home-made "notebook cooler" with external fans). I feel that as long as all of my 3 "helpers" is happy with their existing licenses, I should be able to modify the hardware at will and NOT have the licenses stop working.

I've already stopped paying for yearly Norton subscriptions on 3 of my 4 personal computers, havinf switched to 3 different "free home versions". I've also had to find alternatives for 2 shareware packages I loved due to their need to telephone or exchange support email ad-nauseum every time I changed the hardware. Will I stop buying Windows ... err, not likely? With the state of Linux (even in 2007) this would be hard; I need to use too many tools which either don't work in any Linux or only work on "another" distro than the one I am using. But it certainly is giving me a reason to think harder about Linux.

At least I hear Microsoft was wise enough to abandon their first plans for Vista licensing - in which Vista would lock itself to one computer (ie: one Motherboard and CPU) and never be able to "move" to a new or upgraded computer. Sounds like a plan borrowed from Sony music lawyers and managers. Now the rumor is there exists a method to "uninstall" Vista from one computer (or motherboard+CPU combo) and "move" it to another. I haven't seen the details of this, but I wager the process will retain many hurdles and confusing details.

The Microsoft doing an IBM Scenario
I don't think Vista will fall flat on its face and bankrupt Microsoft - even IBM is not bankrupt today. As many columnists and writers suggest, Microsoft will force most new computer buyers to "select" Vista. Like Henry Ford's quip about color, new computer buyers at big-box stores can buy any OS they want - as long as it's Microsoft Vista. So a year from now Microsoft will happily announce how many hundred million people have 'switched' to Vista. Microsoft likely doesn't make that much cash from these OEM sales. Microsoft is betting that average-joes & mollies will use their credit cards to UPGRADE their Vista license online, which likely will give them far more cash than these low-cost OEM licenses.

But as many columnists/writers also suggest, most organizations with more than 100 (or perhaps more than a dozen?) computers will just "ghost" any new Vista-licensed computers back to Windows XP (or even 2000) for at least a year. These big organizations is where Microsoft really makes their cash. My employer pays for a Windows (& Office) license every year for nearly every computer in the building (even many running only Linux!) These licenses "cost" Microsoft only a few pennies each in administer, so is like 99.9% profit/margin. My employer does this just as a cover-thy-butt legal move to prevent a disgruntled employee from sending a letter to Microsoft saying "I know where an illegal copy of Windows is ..."

Future of Vista in hands of MSOffice?
So a year ... or two ... from now when big companies and universities start to take stock of the move from WinXp to Vista, the truth of the matter is that the OS-truths have little to do with the decision. As time goes on, Microsoft will subtly try to nudge organizations to cross the line and start paying for Vista. But how to entice? Security? All big organizations use 3rd party tools. Mouth-watering graphics? All big organizations invest in basic hardware incapable of the fancier Vista interface. The only way Microsoft can "nudge" these groups is with new applications and cost-savings. Microsoft will need to make Vista cheaper than WinXP ... or WinXP more expensive than Vista ... or release critical new applications & services (Office 2009? Windows Server 2010?) that don't work well with WinXP.

So here is the risk ... will alternative applications and services exist that offer an OS alternative to Vista? It is not the operating system enabling this - not XP vs Vista nor Windows vs Linux. It is the question - which OS runs the tools we need to be productive?

Will Apple step in to take this business? Not unless all of their top management retire or die in the next few months. Apple is geared to be a niche-player and profits by being a niche-player targeting just some segments of the computer market. Maybe I show my age, but I remember the whole 1987 Jobs vs Sculley thing when Jobs left Apple to form Next and Sculley promised to help Apple stop thinking like a niche-player and start thinking like a market-dominant player. Well, that didn't happen ... Apple is still a niche player (what is their market share? like 5% even?) The only way for Apple to step into ex-Windows accounts is to STOP making money on hardware and giving the OS away for free. They need to start selling the OS and helping competitors create hardware; shift their profit center away from hardware to software. Do you see this happening in our life-time? Not.

So any person or company which feels threatened by the move to Vista ... or just dislikes Microsoft ... or who wants to see history change should be investing in one of two things:

  1. Invest in making OpenOffice better (and mainly faster to use). I think it is safe to say 95% of computer users ONLY use tools which can be classified: a) an office suite, b) a tool largely OS-independent like a web browser, and c) some semi-custom business application for their boss. So the ONLY real road block to the average corporation moving to Linux is the quality of "office suite" available - we assume programs in class b & c will happen if the OS justifies it. Now, I use OpenOffice ... sometimes ... I am not saying it is bad. I am just saying that the Symantec's and Alex St. John's of the world should be actively polishing and grooming OpenOffice today so that a year or two from now all the big organizations who are pondering the "to Vista, or not to Vista" question will like what they see.
  2. Invest in making the major Linux distributions share a common application "package management" system. That is really the MAIN thing hampering wide spread adoption of Linux. Yes, there are converters (like "alien" to convert RedHat RPM into Debian DEB), but they only work for trivial applications. I know - I've been using Ubuntu (in theory Debian-based) for almost a year and so far the ONLY applications I have been successful in installing come via the buildin Ubuntu Synaptic Package Manager. I'm not saying that artificially limiting of my choices to the 18000+ applications Ubuntu offers is the problem. The problem is that the big specialty tool makers - the Adobe's and Rockwell Automation's and Honeywell's and even computer hardware makers of the world - avoid general Linux support because - well - there is no such this as "Linux" as a market. Linux is a kernel. Instead, to be fool-proof software vendors need to create 40-50 separate & tested application downloads for a dozen different Linux distributions on various generations of kernels. My employer (http://www.digi.com/) has to do that - our list of Linux packages dwarfs our list of Windows packages and it is largely incomplete. We don't even support Ubuntu and the "Debian" packages we off don't install under Ubuntu - I have tried. No company manager with any sanity will commit to doing this. If the "Linux world" can reduce this need for downloads to say 4 or 5 (like Windows), then Linux has a better chance to gain the diverse, specialty tools corporations need to use Linux instead of Windows.
Linux is actually pretty easy to install and use these days ... as long as all of your hardware and desired applications have "native" support within your distribution. Heaven help the average computer-savvy user (forget the novice) if they need to go actually try to recompile some source code to gain a pure "Linux application".

I believe the Linux community has about a year to pull together and clean up this huge waste of duplicated effort related to application package management if they want to offer an irresistible alternative to large organizations to Windows Vista. So I don't think Vista will fail out-right - it will succeed. Early market signs are that Microsoft Office 2007 is doing well compared to Office 2003. However, it is still possible that Vista is part of "the hump" in market dominance; that a larger percentage than normal of big institutions will start to defect rather than move to Vista.

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2 Comments:

Blogger web design company india said...

Nice post!!!

August 19, 2009 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger Lynn August Linse said...

This is Lynn revisiting his post - I'd forgotten how windy this one was :)

Well, since my employer forced us to move to MSOffice 2007 (which is a bad tool - they really broke Styles!), I use OpenOffice 99% of the time.

At work I just save all my files as MSOffice 2003, and when someone sends me on of those bloated XML files ending in a .docx, I fire up MSOffice, do a save as MSOffice 2003 and go use OpenOffice.

My only concern now is that Oracle 'owns' OpenOffice, so it's likely to just vanish someday. We'll see.

August 14, 2010 at 6:51 AM  

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