Learn to live with Microsoft

Don't moan about licensing, concentrate instead on IT performance

Don't moan about licensing, concentrate instead on IT performance

A consistent hot topic at meetings of the Computer Weekly 500 Club is Microsoft and its licensing arrangements.

Much noise is made about seeking alternatives, but in reality, there is acceptance. After all their huffing, IT directors are realising that the licensing costs are only a small percentage of their total operating cost.

They also realise there is a limit to how much time can be devoted to pushing against the monolith to try to extract some percentage reduction of what is perhaps 2% to 3 % of total IT operating costs. These IT costs are themselves likely to be only a small percentage of the company's total operating costs.

Talk of alternative environments, if any success was achieved, could lead to a de-stabilisation of the standards that are in place worldwide as a result of the commonality of Microsoft and its products.

Having been in IT for nearly 20 years means that I remember only too well the very real problems of dissimilar operating environments precluding the movement of data and information from one environment to another.

The facility of the internet coupled with the standardisation of Microsoft products gives a speed and reliability undreamed of not that many years ago.

IT directors have contributed positively to the dominant position that Microsoft is in today as they grasped at the functionality provided.

Only a few months ago there was a call for IT directors to get their chief executives involved in tackling Microsoft. However, I am not sure I would want to do that if I had to admit that the monopoly position Microsoft is in was encouraged by users in earlier days.

I would also not want to admit that I needed such high-level help in something that is only a tiny percentage of the organisation's operating costs. I believe this thinking simply demonstrated the tunnel vision of many IT directors.

I believe the effective way forward is to ensure strong long-term cross-client dialogue with Microsoft, while encouraging alternative suppliers that will develop products which will operate effectively in the environment provided by the Microsoft standards.

Prioritise
I know the old cliché of counting the pennies, but I counter that with the baby and the bathwater. Spend time on what will make a real discernible difference to IT performance.

An analogy would be, if you don't like railway companies, you can try to form your own but, most importantly, any rolling stock you design will have to run on 4ft 8.5in gauge. It is no good saying you do not like that gauge, it is the standard, and that, in practical terms, is what Microsoft provides - the standard track for operations and processes which want to get from A to B and be recognisable at the other end and anywhere they call in on route.

Don't waste time
Don't waste time trying to think of an alternative, instead spend that valuable time learning to live with the standards and products the industry has worked itself into. Also spend time looking at ways to try to ensure that Microsoft's strategic directions are such that they meet your business expectations at an acceptable cost.

Robin Laidlaw is president of the Computer Weekly 500 Club
This was last published in January 2003

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