Time to Bar Windows From the Enterprise
Ent Magazine's Scott Bekker attempts in his article, Seven Bad Reasons to Bar Windows From the Enterprise, to dispel some of the technical fallacies, as he sees them, surrounding Windows NT in the corporate enterprise. What I find interesting is that Bekker mentions the trust issue in his introduction, only to minimize that issue in comparison to the technical merits of Windows. If trust in your business partners takes a back seat to technology, where will that land your enterprise?
In case you might be wondering where all this mistrust of Microsoft comes from, it pays to engage in a little history lesson. Mitch Stone's Boycott Microsoft pages, which seem to have ceased production in 2000, are still around to shed some light on Microsoft's long history of sordid legal practices. Most people today have long forgotten about the secret identifier that allowed a Microsoft Office document to be traced back to the computer on which it was created. They filtered out e-mails containing greeting cards from Blue Mountain Arts, a company they had tried to purchase.
Mother Jones Magazine and the Consumer Project on Technology both have information about Microsoft's anti-competitive business practices. Robert Cringely's article, "Is a Little Broadband Enough?", he address why Microsoft keeps getting sued. Apparently, Microsoft had gone after Burst.com's video technology in a manner similar to the way they went after 3Com, Go Computer, and Stac Electronics. According to Cringely, "This is happening so often, I'd say there must be something to it."
Forbes and other news media have articles going back at least as far as 1999 indicating that Microsoft essentially has to be goaded into acknowledging security vulnerabilities. Last year, another report indicated several vulnerabilities that Microsoft still had not acknowledged, although they had been widely reported by security firms. The report contradicted Microsoft's claims that it provides better service in delivering security patches. The recent WMF fiasco is one among many such fiascoes over the past several years. The security vulnerability issue alone should demonstrate the practical nature of trust. Yet, after mentioning trust in his list of general reasons why Windows is not in the data center, Mr. Bekker writes, "The practical reasons that Windows isn't ubiquitous in the enterprise data center are probably the most significant, though."
In 2004 and 2005, the Securities Exchange Commission received complaints about alleged "under-the-table funding, stock-kiting, illegal insider trading, and money-laundering" (see Newsforge). A new complaint was filed in 2005. The disposition of this complaint - or the others - is not known at this time, due in large part to the SEC's policy of not commenting on investigations - or even the existence thereof. While the SEC and the courts have not settled these complaints as yet, these kinds of complaints can hardly be dimissed, especially in light of their other misconduct.
Microsoft's Licensing 6.0 scam benefited their larger enterprise customers while effectively robbing their smaller customers. This issue arose in an MCSE course I took just prior to my full-tilt turn toward libre software. The BBC carried an article from that time that explains the predicament of small businesses in the face of the new license scheme. So, perhaps the larger enterprises could trust Microsoft. Given the number of smaller enterprise customers, Microsoft should be grateful that OpenOffice.org wasn't considered a viable alternative to Office at that time.
The licensing scheme may not make you mistrust Microsoft. However, According to SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, Ernie Ball, the guitar string maker, dropped all Microsoft software altogether when the Business Software Alliance (BSA) raided his offices in a highly-publicized, swat-styled raid on his offices. Ernie Ball settled out of court on the grounds that, if they lost, they would essentially fold. It certainly seems reasonable to have sent a lawyer first. Mother Jones Magazine is among numerous organizations that have pointed to the BSA as little more than a Microsoft puppet. However, their article on the BSA's settlement with a South American telecommunications company certainly offers some damning evidence.
Consider their XML format. Instead of joining, as they had been invited to do, a multi-vendor group to establish a document storage standard, they chose to belittle the effort and create their own. Their own XML format contains hooks that tie into Windows Vista. That may be o.k., but then how will competitors be able to develop applications that "fully comply" with the Microsoft standard? What's more, some have gone so far as to suggest that approving MS XML as a standard is really more about approving Windows Vista as a standard. On the surface, this should engender trust. After all, Microsoft has always held the view that standards hampered innovation. On the other hand, their embrace and extend policy deprives developers of the freedom to innovate unless they have the money to license the technology from Microsoft. And they call this stimulating innovation!
A Microsoft executive recently indicated that they would have to compete with Google on good, old-fashioned innovation. That sounds like fighting words to me. The problem is that about the only area where Microsoft has shown innovation is with the truth. Most of the technology in Microsoft's software is either purchased or imitated. Did you know that PowerPoint is based on purchased technology? There are even questions about how "innovative" Microsoft Bob really was. While trust in Microsoft's ability to innovate is more a matter of faith, as opposed to looking over your shoulder, how can you have faith in any company to compete on innovation when they have never innovated?
Microsoft even goes so far as influencing what the media report. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Dewey Square Group (DSG) "was also one of the PR firms that helped put together Microsoft's bogus "grassroots" letter-writing campaign to defend itself against antitrust prosecution in 2001." The Los Angeles Times uncovered the campaign. According to the Boycott Microsoft site, Microsoft has even assigned "buddies" and "owners" to journalists it doesn't like. It is one thing to respond to critics. Do they really need to keep that close an eye on journalists they don't like? Whether or not this practice continues today, I would be wary of a business so obsessed by its public image.
We haven't even scratched the surface of Microsoft's misconduct. The question is, how is trust not a practical matter? I ran a computer services business for about a year. The only business I didn't get was because a potential client did not have confidence in my abilities. I earned several jobs, not because I had the all the right experience or skills, but because the clients trusted me. And I beefed up my skills in the process. That's the thing. I don't care if Microsoft's software is impeccable and 100% virus-proof. I don't and won't do business with them because I cannot possibly trust them. Were I an enterprise customer with an all-Microsoft platform, I would be looking for the escape hatch.
Scott Bekker can list 100 technical reasons not to bar Windows from the enterprise. He at least recognizes that Windows cannot be given the golden key to the enterprise. I have one reason to bar Windows, Office, and Microsoft in general from any business, non-profit organization or household. Trust. It could be that, at age 38, I am already a relic from pre-creation. Still, I should think that trust still counts for something, even in the most relativistic minds. By minimizing the trust issue, IT executives and managers could inadvertently pay through the nose, either by suffering security attacks or getting sued by their vendor, or by infringements against their copyrights and patents.
Whether or not you trust Microsoft - or any other vendor - is up to you. Whether you feel that technology is more important than trust is your call. Perhaps you're o.k. with your software vendor sneaking and peeking through your systems to collect data about you. Maybe you have no qualms with giving up your freedom as a computer user in order to be able to use a program. Just remember, that attitude could come back to haunt you some day.
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