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The hell of it

By Rudy Nadler-Nir

One of the best exhibits in the seminal work “The Medium is the Massage – An inventory of effects” (*) by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, is a 1966 ‘New Yorker’ cartoon by Lorenz. It shows two businessmen walk past a few prostitutes, standing with their pimp by a lamplight…

“The hell of it is those punks pump over fifteen billion dollars into the economy every year.” (p107).

Hypocrisy aside, we know that money has no smell. But even after we digest that banal, although depressing factoid, we’re still in for a bundle of surprises.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my fear that Microsoft sees its future as closely and irrevocably attached to our personal data, daily activities and – of course – our pockets. (“A radioactive sister in law” – The Big Change, 5 July 2002)

I felt that it is not healthy that the world’s largest software manufacturer seeks to reside within intimate proximity of my personal details, private information and monthly income.

To say that Microsoft ignored my article is as obvious as saying that the tree ignores the little dog pissing on it. Microsoft is a force of nature – the kind that makes any written word seem like a voiceless utterance in the Courts of Chaos. Even more important – Microsoft’s fortune serves as bottom line statement. Money (even stinking money) – talks.

Consider the new Microsoft licensing scheme.

An article from Gartner (“Microsoft Licensing Programs: Take Action Now!” ) describes Microsoft’s new licensing plans.

Goes like this: companies (‘enterprises’) who have perfectly legal copies of Microsoft products will only be able to license upgrades of their applications for a limited period of time.

After that period lapses they will not be able to upgrade the application they own – the only option open to them will be to purchase a new application outright.

And this is not all; with the new application comes a subscription-based software contract. The Redmondites call it “annuity licence”. Gartner claims that some companies who got down to negotiating the terms of their licenses felt that they were uncomfortable when “confronted with pressure from Microsoft to sign a “sweet deal” … or when the threat of an audit is used as a sales tactic.”

Translation? Sign now and we’ll give you a cheaper deal; don’t sign, and we’ll audit your systems – byte by byte.

Is this simply a new-age licensing facility, designed to bring the benefit of development to the buyer – and deserved income to the designer – or a controlling mindset that will guarantee, in the nearest future, complete dependence on Microsoft products?

Either way – Microsoft hedged its bet on the new licensing philosophy. Clients who will require its products will have to do it the Microsoft way.

Is there another way? As in the case of any monopoly, it works only while it is a “pure” monopoly and no other products or services can offer the same – or reasonably similar – features.

It is also true that monopolies got where they are by offering unique products and, whenever possible, giving the opposition the squeeze. The Redmondites are not going to ride into the sunset without a fight.

Are there alternatives to Microsoft? The most favourite name here is Linux – to the uninitiated, Linux is an operating system that was initially created as a hobby by a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

For a variety of reasons (some of them listed under “Why Use Linux?” at: Linux has been gaining momentum and, some say, is poised to become – eventually – a viable challenger of Microsoft’s monopoly.

Online discussion on the issue are numerous (a simple search of “linux vs. microsoft” returns about 1,900 results) and they might be indulging in Hollywood style script, where the big-bad corporation is reduce-to -size by the small-good alternative. But the fact is that – throughout history – monopolies’ power has, eventually, been curtailed by viable, cheaper and – most important – relevant alternatives. We live and hope.

(*) For whatever reason, the original title has been misquoted often and turned into “The Medium is the Message” – quite far from the original, sensual statement.

Rudy Nadler-Nir is an independent e-strategist and Brain-for-Rent. Check Rudy’s personal Website, at: or e-mail him at:

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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