Microsoft complainant eyes open-source option

Clendon Feeney, the Auckland law firm that has filed a complaint with the Commerce Commission about Microsoft's licensing practices, is taking steps to end its Microsoft dependency.

Partner Craig Horrocks has posted an open letter to Microsoft users at the company's website, in which he says the company is evaluating Linux and OpenOffice as alternatives to Microsoft products (see Microsoft complainant publishes open letter).

"Our interest in Linux, Open-Office and GNU/GPL is now much more than academic," Horrocks says, adding that the company has assigned a group of staff to study open source options.

From the work done so far, to fully convert to a Linux environment may take three years and over $10,000 per user.

"We are very locked in and have very high switching costs. However, if our numbers are correct, it will still be much cheaper than staying [a Microsoft] shop."

Clendon Feeney's operations arm, Infraserv, laid the complaint on April 3. Since then the Commerce Commission says it has been collecting information from Horrocks and Microsoft, but still hasn't decided whether the complaint warrants a full investigation.

The complaint centres on the removal of users' rights to update existing software licences for an upgrade fee, as against having to subscribe to Software Assurance, Microsoft's new pay-in-advance programme, or shell out for the complete package price each time the user wants to upgrade. Horrocks is hoping Microsoft will delay the July 31 deadline when Software Assurance kicks in, as it did in September 2001 and February 2002. He also hopes Microsoft might make its proposition simple and compelling for small business.

Support for the complaint has been voiced by NZI IT services manager David Fletcher, who says Horrocks is "quite right" in what he has done. Fletcher was outraged when Microsoft first announced in May last year that customers would have to switch to the new licensing programme by October 1, a move which meant an unbudgeted six-figure upgrade bill for NZI.

However, he is now waiting to see what NZI's parent company, UK-based Commercial General Norwich Union, does. Fletcher has been providing information to the parent company, which is currently negotiating a worldwide licensing agreement to cover 50,000 seats.

In his letter, Horrocks says rumours persist that Microsoft has offered "all you can eat" deals to large customers under the old Select licensing plan. But Fletcher says even if that is the case, those deals will expire in two years. "I think the bottom line is you have to pay all this extra money for no actual additional value to your company."

Microsoft isn't commenting on the letter.

Horrocks is a Computerworld contributor.

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