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Saying 'no'

Week of December 4, 2001

Admirable intentions - or just shrewd patronisation?

CNET's special holiday gift guide edition of Computer Shopper has an article of opinion on page 46 written by John Blackford entitled Avoid Software Dependency: Just Say No To Microsoft.

'Back when Bill Gates first hung his star on the Internet,' writes Blackford, 'his brain trust looked into the future and foresaw declining revenue, market saturation, and lengthening upgrade cycles. And that spells trouble in Redmond. Not one to brood, Bill unleashed his operating system monopoly to help remedy the situation.'

'At the time, some believed Web browsers might supplant Windows,' Blackford goes on, 'so preventing that was, in Gatespeak, mission-critical. Bundling Microsoft's own Internet Explorer into Windows was just the visible part of the effort. Behind the scenes, Microsoft representatives pressured companies planning to promote the then market-leading Netscape. One particularly telling effort was Microsoft's threat to cancel Compaq's license to sell Windows if the company persisted in its plans to load Netscape on its PCs. In effect, Microsoft could have put Compaq out of business, because without Windows it had no business.'

So far so true, so far so good.

'The latest step, realized in Windows XP and Office XP,' writes Blackford, 'changes the way products are licensed and activated. Eventually, with .Net, users will rent Microsoft-owned or authorized products and services via the Web, including Windows and Office.'

'What's wrong with this picture?' Blackford asks at last, and explains. 'Only this: The interlocking features and services (some 'free' with the operating system, others paid for by subscription) all promote and support one another. Windows XP exhorts you to sign up for Passport. Microsoft is betting it can exploit your current dependence on Windows to get you to sign up for Microsoft services by offering the path of least resistance.'

'On the consumer side,' Blackford continues, 'Windows XP and Office XP require product activation, a process whereby the software checks out your system and asks you to call or e-mail Microsoft for an activation code based on your configuration. If that changes too much (say, you upgrade memory, hard drives, and graphics card), your product may be deactivated. Supposedly, you can call Microsoft, explain the changes, and receive a new code. But once Microsoft is delivering code via the Web on a subscription basis, who's to say it won't pull the plug on your license if a payment is late? This is not an idle worry.'

Indeed. As radsoft.net has warned all along, product activation, together with the 'self-help' Microsoft is pushing with their UCITA lobby, are enemies to consumers everywhere and leave people in a very uncomfortable position.

Blackford now sums up. 'Bottom line: The cool services Microsoft offers mask a direct threat to the unfettered use of your computer - and your right to a competitive market. It's no wonder that, for the first time, significant numbers of users are now exploring alternatives to Microsoft products. The Linux OS has little of Windows' polish, but it's secure, stable, and cheap. Sun's StarOffice 6.0 suite will be available early in 2002, and the beta is already earning glowing reviews. Not only is it free, but its XML-based file format is truly open, unlike Microsoft's proprietary formats. It runs on both Windows and Linux.'

'Take a hint,' Blackford winds up. 'Microsoft offers great products, and some of them may be for you, but don't drift into total dependency. Preserve your options, and by voting with your dollars, give Microsoft the best incentive possible to alter its behavior.'

And one might at this point want to stand and give John Blackford an ovation, but wait a second: Computer Shopper is a hard copy magazine for PC hardware. Cover to cover it is ads and more ads for new PCs.

  • Compaq has the inside front cover three page spread with eight new PC models all bundled with Windows XP.
  • The next two pages are a Microsoft spread on Windows XP.
  • Dell has page 8. It features the Inspiron 8100 Notebook which ships with Windows XP.
  • ABS has page 13 and features three servers, all with Windows XP.
  • ABS has page 15 again, and features three PCs all with Windows XP.
  • Sony has a two page spread on pages 24 and 25, featuring a laptop with Windows XP.
  • Sager has a two page spread on pages 28 and 29, featuring six laptops with Windows XP.
  • Sager has another two page spread on pages 30 and 31, featuring another six laptops with Windows XP.
  • Gateway has a two page spread on pages 34 and 35, featuring four PCs with Windows XP.
  • PC Mall has pages 42 and 43 and there features three PCs with Windows XP.
  • Gateway has pages 48 and 49 and states 'Gateway PCs use genuine Windows Operating Systems.'
  • AMD and nVidia share page 53, proclaiming 'Experience the Ultimate in Gaming for Windows XP.'
  • Sager has 54 and 55 with six new laptops all bundled with Windows XP.
  • Dell has pages 56 and 57, proclaiming 'Dell PCs use genuine Microsoft Windows.'
  • Cyberpower has pages 60 and 61, with ten PCs featured, and a choice between Windows ME and Windows XP.
  • IBM takes over pages 66 and 67 with three NetVistas with Windows XP and three ThinkPads with Windows XP.
  • Atlas has three PCs on page 69 which all come with Windows XP.
  • ProStar spreads on pages 72-73 with six laptops bundled with Windows XP.
  • HP has a booklet insert with ads on pages 10 and 13 its Pavilion notebooks bundled with Windows XP and on page 17 for its Pavilion desktop PCs bundled with Windows XP.
  • Page 78 is a new HP ad for its Pavilion n5415 notebook bundled with Windows XP. The headline on the page even says 'hp notebook PCs with Windows XP' and has a picture captioned in big bold white letters: 'freedom'.
  • Page 81 is WinBook's exposition of four laptops all shipping with Windows XP.
  • iBUYPOWER has pages 90-91 where it shows off sixteen new PCs all shipping with either Windows ME or Windows XP.
  • Micro Pro has pages 92-93 with seventeen PCs and servers all shipping with either Windows ME or Windows XP.
  • CyberPower has page 95 with five systems bundling either Windows ME or Windows XP.
  • NuTrend has page 97 with four systems all shipping with Windows XP.
  • TCW has three systems on page 99 which ship with Windows XP.
  • Alienware has two systems on page 101 which ship with Windows XP.
  • Dell has three more laptops on page 105 which all ship with Windows XP.
  • Dell has three more desktops on page 106 which all ship with Windows XP.
  • United MICR has nine system on page 113 which ship with either Windows 2K or Windows XP.
  • Alienware has two more systems on page 125 which ship with Windows XP.
  • CyberPower has three more systems on page 127 which ship with either Windows ME or Windows XP, and the bottom half of the ad is the sensationalistic headline 'MICROSOFT WINDOWS XP IS NOW AVAILABLE!!!!'
  • Micro Pro has a new ad on page 129 with more Windows XP systems featured.
  • TigerDirect has page 146 with three systems all with Windows XP 'pre-loaded' and a huge headline 'Athlon XP PERFORMANCE!' and a sub-header 'EXTREME PERFORMANCE FOR WINDOWS XP AMD Athlon'.
  • Googlegear has four systems on page 151 all with Windows XP pre-loaded.
  • Page 152 is Dell's, where they proclaim again 'Dell PCs use genuine Microsoft Windows.'
  • Page 153 is Dell's too, with four more Inspiron laptops all shipping with Windows XP.
  • eCost has page 155 with a Sony laptop shipping with Windows XP.
  • ProStar has six new laptops on page 159 all shipping with Windows XP.
  • Dell has nine more systems on pages 182-183 all shipping with Windows XP.
  • Page 184 reminds us again that 'Dell PCs use genuine Microsoft Windows.'
  • GenTech has eight systems on page 194 that ship with either Windows ME or Windows XP.
  • Adamant has four systems on page 203 that all ship with a free upgrade to Windows XP.
  • 4sure has four systems from HP, Sony and Compaq on page 228 which all ship with Windows XP.
  • Finally, Dell has the shiny glossy very pretty laminated inside back cover four page spread with SEVENTEEN systems all shipping with Windows XP.

There is a single mention of Linux in this 234 page magazine. Unix is not mentioned once. There are perhaps six pages of ads which have offers not forcing Windows XP on you.

In the context of the above then, what does John Blackford's article of opinion mean? It means nothing - intentionally.

Microsoft is well aware of the customer dissatisfaction 'out there'. Just like they use Paul Thurrott they're using writers at organisations like CNET. Write something that touches a nerve. Yes, people want to resist, want to protest, and if they could shove all of Redmond into the Pacific, they would not hesitate.

But they can't, they will never succeed, and both CNET, Microsoft and John Blackford know this. Had Blackford offered some advice on how to fight the Redmond Beast, then yes, we could have taken his article of opinion seriously.

But John Blackford works for an organisation that thrives in symbiosis with Microsoft. Not only is this organisation hardly going to do anything to upset the apple cart, this organisation - and its writers - are going to do everything to make that cart roll up the hill as smoothly as possible.

They're coming for you, every one of them. They've got you caught - by the crown jewels. Microsoft has a bigger monopoly than ever, and you can fight it a bit if you will, but sooner or later you're going to need to upgrade your hardware, and when you do...

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