Users finally lose patience

This week corporate users finally lost patience with Microsoft over the controversial changes it is making to its software...

This week corporate users finally lost patience with Microsoft over the controversial changes it is making to its software licensing regime.

The Infrastructure Forum (Tif) has called for an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)

into whether Microsoft's actions constitute an abuse of monopoly power under the terms of the Competition Act.

The OFT has real teeth. It can order Microsoft to abandon the changes in the UK, and can tell the Seattle giant to put them on hold while it conducts its investigations. Under the Competition Act, firms that break the rules can be fined up to 10% of their UK turnover.

Computer Weekly welcomes the move and believes the OFT should intervene. Microsoft is clearly abusing its dominant position - just ask yourself, could Microsoft do what it is doing now if users had real choice in a competitive market?

It should not have had to come to this. Microsoft has been asked repeatedly by both individual users and user groups to amend the changes, or at least delay their implementation to give users more time to plan their response.

But Microsoft has refused to budge an inch in the past two months.

Last week it gave a slap in the face to Tif, the BCS IT directors' forum Elite, information management professional body Imis and Socitm, the local authority IT managers' group. In response to representations from all these groups, Microsoft simply repeated its view that the changes are in the best interests of users.

Over the past four months Microsoft has lost much of the support it used to have among the UK's most senior IT professionals. Many are sympathetic to Microsoft's idea of paying for software on a rental basis. But it is the way that Microsoft has introduced the changes - by removing or dramatically increasing the cost of other options - and the pricing levels of the new options that have angered users.

Corporate customers say their Microsoft bills will rise by up to 100% - some say even more - as a result of the changes.

The level of anger has been stoked by the reassuring but apparently misleading comments made by Microsoft when it announced the changes back in May. It said then that 80% of customers would see no cost increases. Many users have been shocked to discover the true cost for their businesses.

Make no mistake, users are angry. Computer Weekly has not seen such a widespread level of discontent since the worst days of IBM's market dominance in the 1970s.

Many feel personally betrayed. One IT director told Computer Weekly, "I argued the case for going all Microsoft to the board. Now they have made me look an idiot."

A survey of the Computer Weekly 500 Club, whose members are the heads of IT from the UK's 500 largest organisations, found that 85% believe the Government should step in to protect UK users.

This is not the way to do business in the 21st century. But, unfortunately, Microsoft has left customers little choice.

If you feel strongly about this issue - whatever your viewpoint - tell us at cwlicenceviews@rbi.co.uk. If you have hard evidence for the OFT to consider, send it to enquiries.competitionact@oft.gov.uk.

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