Naked PCs are exercising Microsoft — no, not the strippogram variety, but computers with no operating system. Last week, a friend of the Diary passed on a copy of Partner Update, a promotional magazine sent by Microsoft to dealers. This had the curious statement from Michala Alexander, head of anti-piracy, that the company had recruited two 'Feet on the Street' bodies to go in to any client who wanted to buy PCs unadorned by Windows.
Now, Microsoft has tried in the past to spread the idea that such horrible desires will lead inescapably to illicit activities, even going so far as to suggest that motherboards should come with Windows by dictat. As it is, the company does insist that you buy another copy if you replace the motherboard in your PC – arrant moneygrabbing nonsense, and the sort of behaviour which frees a lot of people from any residual feelings of guilt if they dare disobey.
But sending the lads in, just because you've no intention of using Microsoft? Surely not. Yet the piece is unambiguous. We phoned the company up and said "this 'proactive assistance' you're offering during customer visits from your anti-piracy team – you're really saying you'll send them to anyone who doesn't want your software?" "Of course not," said Microsoft. "So what does it mean?" we asked. "After all, you made it a big quote in the article itself." "We'll get back to you."
We tried to get some feedback from the dealers, but they weren't talking. Boy, were they not talking. Trying to get on the record opinion from dealers about Microsoft is like asking them to start a local edition of Private Eye in North Korea. Even the various commercial competitors were more guarded than Dick Cheney's holiday hideaway.
By then, Microsoft had indeed got back to us with a splendid explanation: it was an error in the copy. It didn't mean it. How that happened, when it was the subject of the whole article and written extra large in friendly blue letters, is destined to be a mystery forever.
The Free Software Foundation Europe, bless it, was prepared to tentatively advance an opinion that "It is an incredible piece of impudence which any politician, customer and journalist should recognise carefully". Bet you won't find them asking you to buy a new license when you upgrade your motherboard either: that's the sort of dangerous anti-capitalism that prevents honest software companies from making an honest billion.
Meanwhile, we can only recommend that if you read a statement from Microsoft that seems too outrageous to be true, you should phone up and check that it really did mean what it seems to mean.