Microsoft Corp.?s upcoming versions of windows weave corporate IT into a net of Microsoft?s making, and action is needed now to preserve the freedom and independence that the PC revolution bestowed on IT buyers two decades ago. In both its upcoming Windows XP desktop and Whistler server versions of Windows, Microsoft is including invasive technology unprecedented in its scope. That, combined with the ?licensed, not sold? language of software boilerplate, could become onerous if Microsoft proceeds with its announced plans. Starting with the Beta 2 releases of the new Windows versions, the software needs to be ?activated,? whereby a software agent sends to Microsoft the activation key plus details of system hardware. Activation is mandatory and must take place within 30 days of system installation.
There are two big problems here.
The immediate issue is that management costs for future versions of Windows will certainly go up with this activation headache. Enterprise IT managers will need to carefully monitor machine hardware changes along with a new database linking individual systems to activation keys so reinstallations work properly.
Microsoft has said that copies of Windows purchased through its volume corporate licensing programs will install without the product activation requirement. Will companies switch to bulk purchasing deals or site licensing just to avoid Big Brother? Probably. Given the price increases in these programs last year, it?s clearly in Redmond?s interest that they do so.
The larger issue is one of control, and on this issue, Microsoft?s scheme is just one more step along a path that?s leading in the wrong direction.
The Windows Product Activation plan; user-hostile Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act legislation still before many states; and bills already law, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, are all cut from the same bolt of cloth?and the pattern isn?t one that suits the enterprise IT wardrobe.
Microsoft has already stated its intention to move toward a service-based business model through its .Net strategy. Software companies would love to get paid every time we double-click their icons and are happy to let Microsoft lead the way.
What?s next? Will we have to supply purchase orders for every boot-up? Submit micropayments per keystroke?
It?s not too late for Microsoft to change direction. We ask that company executives take a moment to remember that it was empowerment of the individual through the desktop PC that created their success. And they should remember that all those PCs replaced a system in which desktop terminals were umbilically linked to a central site. It was called time sharing.