Wake up and smell the coffee

The general drift of Microsoft's policy, to dominate the market and extract huge profits, has long been clear. No one should be...

The general drift of Microsoft's policy, to dominate the market and extract huge profits, has long been clear. No one should be surprised to find that it will hurt

This week the deadline for Microsoft's new licensing terms came and went. Despite the outcry from IT user groups and evidence of the additional financial burden to public and private sector IT budgets, Microsoft has proved typically inflexible. The only concession it has made has been to extend its Upgrade Advantage option to February. Big deal.

Corporate IT departments will be forced to upgrade at the full cost of each licence, pay for the Software Assurance programme, or - the scariest option of all - go for subscription licensing.

Not that there is anything wrong with subscription licensing in principle - it has been used in the past - but buying a subscription from the only supplier in the market, as one company auditor told me, is just plain stupid.

When it comes to renewing subscriptions, Microsoft will have you by the short and curlies, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

Expect fees to double, or treble. Billions more will be paid to the Seattle giant without proportionate product value. What are you going to do about it - move to Linux?

How exactly did we end up in this fix? Is Microsoft an omnipotent evil empire?

No - it is a fantastic company that has delivered unbelievable shareholder value over the past 20 years. That is what fantastic companies do. If you are in a feeble position when you negotiate with Microsoft, it is your own fault.

Last month, one IT director told Computer Weekly, "I argued the case for going all Microsoft to the board. Now Microsoft has made me look an idiot."

I am stunned that anyone is surprised at Microsoft behaving in this way. It has clearly been the company's strategy since it got Dos into IBM PCs. From then on Microsoft's method was simple - to make its products, as a complete package, difficult not to buy and then get as much cash from the customer as it can.

The question is, what can anyone do about it?

Nothing. Because IT professionals are disparate, diverse and inept at standing together and creating a coherent case - to the board, to suppliers and to regulatory bodies.

For example, in April this year, Computer Weekly backed the creation of an IT super-group - dubbed Conbrit. It was an alliance between Tif, the National Computing Centre, the Communications Management Association, the Institute for the Management of Information Systems and 11 other IT users' organisations. It was to represent £30bn of IT buying power in the UK. Such an organisation might have issued pre-election statements or railed against Microsoft's licensing changes. Instead it fell apart in a pathetic display of infighting worthy of a toddlers' playgroup.

Other professional groups manage to do it so why can't you? I started my career as a journalist writing for a magazine published by the British Medical Association. At the BMA, the debating was often of poor quality, the consultants were pompous and the GPs always moaned. But, as a unit, it was very effective in getting its message across to the public and government.

Workers in IT can do the same. Today, your work is essential for the running of almost every business and public sector body in the UK. You have something people need, but unless you put a coherent case forward and unite behind it no one will listen to you.

There is some hope. Last week, for the first time, I read articles in national daily newspapers which represented the views of IT users. Tif had called on the Government to act on Microsoft's new licensing charges. Most of the stories were short and towards the back of the business section, but it is a start.

Other IT user bodies should follow Tif's lead and lobby the Government on this issue. If you are a member of a user group you should make sure its leaders do their job effectively or get new ones. If you do not belong to a user group you should join one.

IT suppliers spend millions on PR and lobbying in the UK and frequently get stories into newspapers. Unless IT professionals start to do the same, Microsoft will continue to behave in the way it always has and you will have no one but yourselves to blame.

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