Users quail in the face of Microsoft

With no one prepared to stand up to new software charges, it is time to meekly learn our lessons

With no one prepared to stand up to new software charges, it is time to meekly learn our lessons

Five weeks from now the controversial new Microsoft software licensing regime will set in. Last year, Computer Weekly played a large part in buying more time for IT decision makers to consider and confront these changes, when it launched a campaign that resulted in Microsoft postponing the introduction of the new terms from October 2001 to July 2002.

That time has now all but ticked by, and Microsoft has made it quite clear that there will be no further extensions. The time for evaluating your licensing options and attempting to negotiate a favourable deal is almost over.

In reality, few companies are likely to call Microsoft's bluff, or to dump its software in favour of other alternatives.

For all its fighting talk over the past few months, the UK's IT directorate has done little to engage Microsoft in open conflict. Having registered its discontent, it now seems happy to roll over, consoling itself that the costs these changes entail will amount to only a small percentage of its IT budget.

This is a shame. Outrage followed by inertia is no way to counter a perceived threat.

Either the changes Microsoft is imposing are an abuse of its dominant market position or they are not. A UK body exists that can pronounce on such matters; but the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) can only pass judgement when it receives a test case to review.

Delegates at last week's Computer Weekly 500 Club meeting on the issue of Microsoft licensing were asked whether they had either contacted the OFT or knew of any companies that had done so. The question drew only a frustrating silence.

At the same meeting, calls came for Microsoft to produce a flow chart to ease the process of compliance - this, mere weeks before deadline day. Where is the gumption of the UK's user community, if it must resort to asking Microsoft for a licensing-by-numbers guide this late in the day? (Microsoft's reasonable response was to point users to www.microsoft.com/uk/licensing.)

In the absence of any concerted attempt to counter Microsoft's changes, IT directors might at least take the time to learn from this episode.

Firstly, they should monitor carefully their other major software and hardware suppliers to make sure similar nasty surprises do not await them. To this end, user bodies should seek assurances from the industry heavyweights that they will preface large-scale licensing changes with sufficient user dialogue.

Secondly, the UK IT community would do well to develop future licensing champions among its ranks. There is an argument for the creation of a professional qualification in the arcane art of software licensing.

Microsoft should also draw lessons from the past year. Its approach to introducing licensing changes has been heavy handed and confusing - more smoke and mirrors than Windows.

The depth of anger among UK users has been clear to see; if future changes to the way it does business are to be embraced with any sort of goodwill, the software giant must build consultation into the process.

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