Tag Archives: microsoft

Techfest ’09

Oscar Kightly was the MC

Originally uploaded by Al404

I’m not Microsoft’s biggest fan, but I’m not going to turn down food, drink and entertainment at their expense! And to their credit, this was a good event.

I snapped a few pics on my camera phone, and they showed I’m well and truly past its limits in this sort of environment. A few people had SLRs, and I wish I’d taken mine as most concerts you can’t take that sort of equipment to. Maybe if I score a ticket next year as well…!

Katchafire, The Septembers, ElemenoP all put on solid performances, and the comedy act Ben Hurley was hilarious. Two thumbs up.

Full set is here.

Update: Some of my pics were added to the official Teched gallery.

The New Zealand Government and the Microsoft Deal

Late last month the State Services Commission dropped a bombshell; they would not be renewing their pan-government agreement with Microsoft. This agreement covered the use of Microsoft software in our state departments, and the announcement was widely covered in both the mainstream and technical press:

In typical digg fashion the headline was rather sensationalised:

While Slashdot juiced it up just a little bit:

At first glance this appears to be a victory for competition and open standards in government IT, and certainly it removes one barrier that competing software vendors were facing. However by itself this announcement does not mean that Microsoft solutions are any less favoured than before. Effectively this agreement means that Microsoft is free to negotiate with each state department individually, and you can bet that few departments are in any sort of position to switch wholesale to competing solutions.

So the problem is that many departments (and most businesses in the country) are hopelessly dependent on Microsoft’s products, so when they approach the negotiating table few of them will have much leverage. In this way Microsoft will most likely extract more out of the NZ government than it did under than pan-government deal.

On the positive side this will demonstrate to those state departments the cost of using Microsoft’s products, and opens the door to alternatives. While Microsoft were the only option before, they are now simply the most favoured one. Indeed the harder Microsoft plays them, the more motivated our government departments will be to seek alternatives.

I see this as a victory for both sides – Microsoft can negotiate better rates for its products, and state departments are free to choose the software vendor. In the short term Microsoft wins, but in the long term I think we all will.

Implications for Education

I put these musings into a different section, as it’s a different angle. I work in the education market, and the Ministry of Education is a state service, so this is going to have an impact on our company, although probably not a major one.

The Ministry of Education also negotiates a separate deal for the use of Microsoft software in schools, and it is important to note that this is a separate deal. The pan-government deal is for state services, thus it would cover the Ministry of Education’s internal IT systems but not schools themselves. This comment from the Ministry of Education clarifies the point:

The Microsoft Schools Agreement is totally separate to the pan-government Microsoft licensing agreement that was mentioned in the Computerworld article. The new Microsoft Schools Agreement is still under negotiation, but talks are proceeding well. The current agreement lasts until December 2009. The new agreement would cover the period from January 2010 to December 2012. The products covered by the new agreement are likely to remain largely the same. An announcement regarding the new agreement will be made to schools once negotiations have been concluded.

So an agreement to bulk-license Microsoft software in schools is still likely. However if the talks break down it will be interesting to see what the impact on other vendors is, as Novell also have a bulk license deal with the Ministry. I look forward to the announcement.

Further reading: http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/news/561FB33C30FEB478CC2575C400737916

How Microsoft shot itself in the foot

I have never paid for an operating system on any computer I own. There. I said it. I am a dirty pirate. I’ve owned computers with Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, and I didn’t pay for any of them. And there isn’t an ice cube’s chance in hell that I’ll ever pay money for Vista.

However over the course of my career I have contributed (in a very insignificant way) to Microsoft’s bottom line. See, I used to build and sell computers for a living, and whenever I did so, a copy of Windows was sold with it. Does this right the wrongs of my pirate past? Not at all, however people like me were part of the ecosystem that gave Microsoft its monopoly. If we were forced to pay for it back then, there would definitely have been a few more of us dabbling in open source.

Software is not like a traditional good or service, as after development costs are accounted for the cost of supplying it to the customer is virtually zero. If the customer pirates it, the cost actually is zero as the company was not part of the distribution chain. So by pirating Windows, you actually have no effect on Microsoft other than increasing their market share (which in the 90’s was dangerously close to 100%). Usage breeds adoption, market share and sales.

So here are the ways in which I believe Microsoft has shot itself in the foot:

  1. Killing development of Internet Explorer
    When XP was released, IE6 had over 90% of the web browser market. So what does a monopolist do in the absence of competition? It ceased development, and we got the security farce that was 2002 – 2004. Around this time, Firefox appeared, and gained market share that IE will probably never get back. 
  2. The long wait for Vista
    It was too long, everyone knows it. If we’d had a more gradual migration path from XP, and if the upgrades were cheaper, the blow would have been softened significantly. In my view Apple has it right. Each new release of OSX brings some changes, but it isn’t all that different from the previous release, is often faster, and upgrades are generally painless.
  3. Windows Genuine Advantage
    Despite the fact that Vista can be pirated, it is complicated and inconvenient to do so, and you will probably have to wipe you hard drive and reinstall it every 6 months as WGA can only be reset so many times.So quite a few tech enthusiasts such as myself don’t bother with Vista – they install Linux. Some of these tech enthusiasts build and sell computers as a hobby, so when Aunty Jane comes along asking for a cheap computer for Internet and Email, what do they recommend?
  4. Steep hardware requirements for Vista.
    Microsoft has been caught with its pants down. It completely failed to anticipate the market for small, highly portable, low power computers. This includes the Asus Eee, Intel Classmate, and the OLPC project. It planned to kill off XP next year despite significant demand, and the fact that Vista will not run on low power devices.

There are several things Microsoft could do with the next release of Windows to slow the adoption of alternatives:

  1. Get rid of WGA
    If Windows is easily pirated and practically free to those that don’t mind using unlicensed software there is less incentive to try free software. Only Microsoft accountants and executives are privy to the effect that WGA has had on Microsoft’s bottom line, but I dare say it will be less than the effect losing a significant chunk of market share would have. 
  2. Release regular updates to Internet Explorer
    And make it a viable development platform for web developers.
  3. Release regular service packs for Windows, at least one a year
    Microsoft already plans to release a new version of Windows every 3 years which I believe is a good move, but it remains to be seen if they can actually keep to this.
  4. Make it scalable from low-power cheap laptops to high end servers
    This has traditionally been the weak point of Windows.

In the past few years we’ve come a long way towards a truly competitive software industry. I believe the industry is going to go more further towards true competition in the desktop space, as Microsoft has failed to anticipate a huge emerging market, and may not be able to react fast enough to get a modern version of Windows running on low power devices.

When XP was released, Microsoft completely owned the desktop operating system and web browser markets. While they still own around 90%, I am hopeful that things will look very different in 10 years time. Both OSX and Linux have made meaningful gains, but only time will tell if the traction alternative operating systems are getting will be enough to overcome the huge interia of the Windows world.