This is really wordy. But its got a great point at the bottom. If you can’t get through this wordy doc, then just click right now over to Open Office and check it out. Otherwise, read on about how I found it… This is a real life story of why software piracy is good for Microsoft, and how Microsoft is making a big mistake right now.
I bought a new PC this week. Its nice. I decided to do some video editing, so I got 2.8GHz, 800MHz FSB, 512MB system with an ATI 9000 All-In-Wonder graphics card. Thats a pretty decent card for the video input. I ended up buying the thing in parts, because it was substantially cheaper than the assembled systems. Normally, assembled systems are cheaper these days, but with my fussiness over the DVD writer and the ATI graphics card, I couldn’t find one with the stuff I wanted.
Anyway, it turns out that installing the hardware was the easy part. The hard part was getting Microsoft Windows to work. I wanted to upgrade to Windows XP, and then I stumbled across the no-piracy stuff thats in there. With XP, it turns out that Microsoft requires activation over the network. They know if your key has been used before, and they won’t let you activate if it has. Of course, I was up late at night trying to get the thing installed, so I was using a CD that I got with my laptop (a legal copy, just not for my new machine!). Well, Microsoft was successful in preventing me from getting my installation done. They will let you try the OS for 30 days before they’ll lock you out, but curious me actually set the clock forward 3 months to see what happened when the 30 days was up. Yup – they locked me out !!!
So I got on the phone to MSFT calling the number that was given to me in the activation application from Microsoft. I told them I wanted to buy two copies of WinXP Pro. The nasty woman on the other end of the phone was clearly angry with me. She kept going on about how my license didn’t allow me to install the software. I told her I knew that and I wanted to give her my credit card number so I could pay for two copies. Needless to say, that was beyond her competence.
So, the next day, I took a trek to Fry’s and bought an OEM copy of windows. The OEM version costs $99, while the regular version costs $150. But, you have to buy hardware in order to qualify for the OEM version. And my system, purchased the day before, didn’t qualify. The nice customer service person directed my to their screw isle (no pun intended), where I picked up a $0.99 bag of computer case screws to qualify as my hardware purchase to go with my OEM version of XP.
Where does this leave Microsoft? Did they win? Did they lose? Well, in the short term, they clearly won. I purchased two copies of Windows XP that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. In the long term, however, they lost. I’m definitely not going to be upgrading to any new versions in the future unless I absolutely have to. And, I’m going to start looking for alternatives to Microsoft more seriously now too. From what I’ve read, they’ve locked down Microsoft Office tightly with keys just like they did for Microsoft Windows. So, this means I’m looking for alternatives to both.
I’ve never been a linux or open source bigot like many software developers are. I like linux, of course (the server which is serving this page is running Linux), but I don’t want linux on my desktop. So for now I still need Windows as my operating system. And I will admit it – I like windows! Microsoft has really done a great job with XP, and I have no major complaints about it. In the long run, buying it, even for home, is may be okay. But I’m going to look a lot more at competition if I *have* to pay for it rather than *elect to pay for it.
So, I think this anti-piracy crusade could be long term trouble for Microsoft. If they had just let me have it for free at home, I’d use it at work (and pay for it). Why would I look for anything else? I think the software is good – I learned it at home (for free) and I want it in the office too, because that makes my job easy.
But, instead of having me use Office at home, I’m now out looking for something else thats cheaper. And the only reason is because Microsoft wanted to get $99 from me. (Actually office costs more – $200) I’m really liking the alternative I found so far. Yes, I’ve still got XP, of course, but Microsoft Office is NOT on my systems anymore.
I found OpenOffice – an open source based alternative to Microsoft Office. Bundled in the package is a Excel, Word, and Powerpoint – oh – they call them “Spreadsheet”, “Document”, and “Presentation”. So far, its awesome. The install was incredibly smooth and the visual presentation was great (although it did give me some too-techie gripe about not having Java installed?). And now its worked with every word doc and spreadsheet I have. Literally- I see no bugs, and I’m absolutely blown away. This is really good software.
So, Microsoft, we’ll see who has the last laugh. I’m a small business owner, and I obviously hope my business grows. In the future, I’ll need to purchase Office-like software for my own employees. Had you not added this anti-piracy thing to my Windows XP install, I’d absolutely be purchasing Microsoft Office. Why would I look for anything else? I know how to use it, I like it, and its cheaper to not have to train employees to use something else. Now, however, I’ve discovered OpenOffice, and I’m going to use it for a while. Other home users are doing the same thing. And the next time I need to purchase a Word Processor, you may not get my business. While I may not have been paying when I was at home before, at least you were getting my mindshare. Now, I’m still not paying, and I’m not even running your products.
More comments on this:
Microsoft writes: (quoted from here)
“Software Piracy represents a major threat to system builders and their customers worldwide. For honest system builders it creates an uneven playing field, giving unscrupulous competitors an unfair advantage in the marketplace. In addition to this, piracy is a crime and the legal implications for offenders may be severe. System builders who engage in piracy risk heavy fines, business closure and a ruined reputation. ”
Microsoft had all the advantages. But because of their anti-piracy philosophy, they are giving away one of the key advantages that they used to have – mindshare in the home.
Microsoft claims to lose “billions” each year to piracy. They compute this with the following broken math (I’m making up the actual numbers, but you get the idea):
– there are 100,000,000 copies of our software out there
– there are 50,000,000 copies of our software purchased
– full retail value is $350 for each copy
– therefore, we lost $1.75 billion.
The premise is that the 50,000,000 copies being used that aren’t paid for would be purchased. But thats false. They’ll never be purchased. Most of those unpaid-for copies are being used by people that can’t afford the $200 price tag. So, its not lost revenue. Its gained mindshare.
Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates – you are making a mistake. Let me use your software at home. Its good for you in the long term.
Here is a fix for Microsoft:
License all of your software to individuals for $25. License it to schools for $5. And then sell it for its current prices to businesses. For businesses, leave in all the anti-piracy stuff. People will love you for this. The reputation of being the “Evil Empire” will fade away. You can call it “generousity”. You’ll still make just as much money. Initiatives like OpenOffice won’t be able to make traction because who’s going to quibble over a small amount like $25? Would the developers of OpenOffice even be motivated enough to keep developing?
Ah well. I don’t mean to be too hard on the Microsoft guys; I understand the frustration of piracy. But, its kind of like spam. You have to learn to live with it rather than just fighting it all the time. In the long run good products will prevail.