Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hasta La Vista

It all started back in the 80's, software companies wanted to protect their intellectual property. As I recall, Lotus was the first company to attempt to prevent piracy, unless you put a 'write protect' tab on the install disk you could only install the software once! The internet was not something that everyone had, but it did not take long for word to get out about how you could circumnavigate the install process.

Back in the 80's Microsoft did not seem to care much about software piracy, DOS was $20 a copy, and no one (other than crazy rich people) had more than one computer in their home. Everyone was happy to pay the $20.

Times have changed, and Microsoft has changed. DOS is no more, we have something called Windows instead. Windows make it easier for us to use a computer (So the adverts say). We do not need to type in long boring commands, now we can point and click!

Of course there is a very slight downside to all of this, Microsoft wanted a lot more money. Rather than $20 for DOS, it was $99 for Windows 95. Microsoft did well with Windows 95. It was not revolutionary, but it was good enough to lure the punters in.

Most people happily shelled out their $99 it was after all a ‘one shot’ deal, and most families still only had a single computer in their home. We are on the verge of yet another new Windows, this one is called Vista. It is my opinion that Vista could well be the product that topples Microsoft from its position of power.

Microsoft has sat at the top of the software pile for 10 years. Not long in geological terms, but very long in software terms. Each new Windows has included new features that the average user just classes as a pest. These features add nothing to the end users experience, they merely add an annoyance factor.

Last year Microsoft introduced us to the Windows genuine advantage program, this magic piece of software checked your installation of Windows to make sure it was valid and then let you download extra programs and fixes for free.

Riding on the crest of a wave, Microsoft enhanced Windows Genuine (Dis) Advantage, this wonderful leap forward in technology made sure that if you were running a bootlegged copy of Windows you got lots and lots of Pop-Ups advising you that what you need to do is call 1-800-emptymywallet and all will be fine.

Microsofts new adventure is named Vista, and Vista is going to take Windows Genuine (dis) Advantage to new lows.

If it detects that your copy is pirated you will get 30 days of nag pop-up messages and then your computer will degrade it’s self. One article I read said that you will lose the Start button, and all your desktop icons will take a hike. That sounds pretty degraded to me! The other hot rumor is that in degraded mode Internet Explorer will close down after one hour of use.

When DOS was king (80’s) most families only had one computer, that has changed. Ok, maybe I am the exception, I have way too many computers. These days though it is not unusual for a family to have two or three computers.

Suddenly the cost of software becomes a very significant item. Today I can go to the store and by a pretty decent pc for about $500. However I need some software and an operating system so I buy Windows and MS Office, I have just doubled the cash outlay (Windows $100, Office $400).

This is the reason that software piracy is so rampant, the average family does not have the money. If Microsoft changed their pricing strategy the whole piracy issue would die. Instead their strategy has become one of alienating their customers by making it harder and harder to use the products.

So what choices does the consumer have? Over the past couple of years the Linux world has changed considerably. Linux used to be a world only inhabited by computer geeks with Phd’s in Astrophysics. That is no longer the case, it is easy to set up, and for the most part very similar to Windows in day to day use. Best of all it is completely free. It is my opinion that Vista is going to be the vehicle that drives people into the Linux world.

As an alternative to MS Office, there is Open Office, this product has the basic look and feel of the Microsoft product and while not as feature rich, contains all of the elements that the average user needs. And do not be worried about compatibility, Open Office can read and write MS Office files.

I think 2007 is going to be an interesting year.

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