Microsoft asking too much with XP

Another product, another slap in the face. Does Microsoft Corp. have any idea what's going on in the real world? Or are they living in some kind of biosphere up in Redmond?

Let me be clear so all you FOBs (Friends of Bill) don't overload my Windows 98 operating system with hate mail: I have nothing against Microsoft. Indeed, I always thought Microsoft would wriggle out from under the antitrust case and avoid being split up.

But the planned October launch of Windows XP for consumers and Office XP for businesses seems to be a bald attempt to goose Microsoft's revenue under the guise of customer needs. Also, several features to be bundled in XP could easily reignite antitrust concerns as Microsoft tries to take a bite out of instant messaging, music players, voice and data communications, and network file-sharing.

By shipping Windows Messaging software with both XP versions, Microsoft is using its desktop hegemony in the same manner it used it to conquer the browser market.

Microsoft claims that it's just giving people what they want. Perhaps. But to take advantage of the less-crash-prone Windows XP system (it uses the more stable Windows 2000 kernel), users will have to buy new machines with XP preloaded.

Microsoft even recommends that you buy a new machine rather than install XP over an existing Windows operating system.

So if you're an IT manager, you'll face added hardware costs for Office XP unless your machines have Windows 98 installed, along with 280MB of free space. You'll also have to host training courses to teach the advantages of new icons and windowpanes. Microsoft won't be supplying paper manuals.

But the most irksome part of the XP experience is the seeming disconnect with current economic conditions.

Carl Howe, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., sums it up best: "No one has a couple of million dollars to send to Microsoft in this economy."

IT departments have just dealt with the Y2k scare and the Internet's remake of business computing. Now they're being hit by an economic slowdown that's crimping budgets. PC sales have stalled, and spending on enterprise software and services is being carefully scrutinized.

And yet Microsoft introduces XP without so much as a nod to the financial constraints most companies are facing. The company has also changed its software-licensing agreements, making it more expensive to use Windows. According to Howe, "Microsoft has to sell an upgrade every four years; they're held hostage to their business model." But IT managers don't have to let themselves be taken prisoner as well.

(Pimm Fox is Computerworld's West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at

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