MS to face OFT probe



Cliff Saran

A software developer has reported Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleging overcharging for technical...



Cliff Saran

A software developer has reported Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleging overcharging for technical support.

The cost of technical support from Microsoft has more than tripled since 1997, said Robin Colclough, chief executive of Audio Visual Computer, a company which specialises in developing public display systems. He has alleged that Microsoft software was not fit for purpose and described Microsoft documentation as "particularly bad".

Colclough's main charge concerns Microsoft's Visual C++ development tool. Having uncovered a problem with an application developed using Visual C++, Colclough said he reported the bug to Microsoft and was subsequently charged £185. The fee provides users with the answer to a single question. But Colclough argued, "Generally we have questions on things that seem to be bugs."

Microsoft often argues that much of the information relating to possible bugs is available either on the Web or via the Microsoft Developer's Network subscription network.

But Colclough said the answer to his query was not in the Microsoft documentation, forcing him to make a support call.

The OFT has acknowledged receipt of the complaint. A spokeswoman at the OFT told Computer Weekly that it was looking seriously into the complaint, which alleges that Microsoft is abusing its dominant position.

George Thaw, the manager responsible for product support services at Microsoft, acknowledged that technical support fees were now £185 per question for developers, an increase of £60 from 1998.

However, he argued that technical support was a non-profit making part of Microsoft's business and cost the company £100 per incident to provide the service.

As to the quality of its software, Thaw said it was impossible to predict how people would use their products. "It's a bit like saying I bought a bus and I'm off to the moon."

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