The case for the defence

Subscription is the way forward for Microsoft's business, but at the same time, the Redmond giant must be more open and...

Subscription is the way forward for Microsoft's business, but at the same time, the Redmond giant must be more open and competitive

Microsoft has recently caused a storm in the UK through the introduction of subscription-based licensing. If the latest surveys are to be believed, the vast majority of IT directors say this will cost more, and feel the Government should take action under general competition policy.

I disagree. The subscription model is simply a very good business model, which the publishing industry has thrived on for years. Anyone who feels that software is an asset is kidding themselves.

Software is a vital, business-critical evil, to be constantly managed and upgraded. One way or another you will end up paying again and again, so why not face facts and pay a subscription?

From a supplier's point of view, subscription is great. It provides a relatively stable income stream which allows for long-term strategic planning. If you want to build high-quality software, there is no way you can grow and shrink software teams on demand, so the software industry needs a business model which reflects this. Well done to Microsoft for biting the bullet. It will help lots of other companies thrive. It may not be popular initially but it is a good model.

On the flip side, we need to make sure Microsoft is very clear on what we expect to get for our money. For me, the priority is regular improvements to make software simpler for users and far easier for IT teams to manage. Oh, some open interfaces would be nice too. No more bells and whistles please - the software is slow and resource-hungry enough as it is.

What is wrong in this case is the way Microsoft is forcing the hands of IT directors by increasing the prices of other options, or removing them altogether.

People don't like being forced into things and Microsoft can only get away with it because of its desktop monopoly. Attractively priced, I suspect many would make the switch of their own volition.

This brings us onto the more serious issue of competition. There is currently no serious competition on the desktop. This we need to fix. Yes, we, not the Government. The Government should worry about anti-competition contracts and behaviour between Microsoft and suppliers, and low-pricing moves designed to put competitors out of business. We as an industry need to worry about open standards and architectures which promote competition, and should refuse to buy non-open solutions. In an XML world there is no excuse.

So how should we do this, given that we cannot ditch Microsoft overnight?

I would recommend you look first to your Web strategy. Let Linux and others get a strong foothold, where they are far better solutions. Solutions will spread out from the Web to the desktop. Who needs an overblown word processor when we are all exchanging information (as opposed to fancy documents) using XML?

Word, Excel and Powerpoint will be downgraded to just another set of tools that work on standard XML processing and XSLT rendering.

You will be able to take them or leave them as you choose, and I guarantee new suppliers will spring up with better, faster, simpler business solutions.

In the meantime, Microsoft will be desperate to have a big piece of the Web pie. Which gives us something to negotiate with while we re-introduce competition. Just watch how big a chunk you give, as it really is up to us to re-introduce competition. Without it Microsoft will raise prices but not its game - it is a business, after all.

Ed Darnell is an interim IT manager

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