Is Microsoft driving freeloaders to Linux?

commentary Is this the week Microsoft finally got serious about fighting piracy -- and could its efforts cost Redmond business?Redmond's decision to mandate a piracy check for all customers who want to download add-ons for Windows XP -- excluding security patches -- is designed to check what the company regards as rampant illicit use of its software.

Iain Ferguson, ZDNet Australia
commentary Is this the week Microsoft finally got serious about fighting piracy -- and could its efforts cost Redmond business?

Redmond's decision to mandate a piracy check for all customers who want to download add-ons for Windows XP -- excluding security patches -- is designed to check what the company regards as rampant illicit use of its software.

The problem is so bad, Redmond reckons, that around one-third of all copies of Windows in use worldwide are illegitimate.

If so, the potential for Microsoft to grow its revenues by enforcing legitimate usage is obviously huge -- an incentive which grows only more attractive when one considers Windows' virtual saturation of the desktop market.

Already some commentators are saying such a program may anger some people who are used to using illicit copies of Windows XP for free and push them to consider switching to Linux or Mac OS X. While this may not be a large proportion, a shift representing just a few percentage points could be claimed as a victory by Microsoft's rivals.

Fair enough -- but the Linux community in particular must realise that customers' preparedness to trial alternatives is a long way from actually signing up to a non-Microsoft product in the longer term.

In an recent column, the Mozilla Foundation's Asa Dotzler explains why Linux is not ready for the desktop -- citing critical factors such as migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort. Each area is, Dotzler argues, characterised by technical capability shortcomings as well as usability failings.

User frustration with these difficulties may see their initial flirtation with Linux forgotten quickly as they race back to Windows' embrace -- even if they now have to cough up to continue their affair with Microsoft. One could even ask whether Microsoft will suffer any net loss to Linux whatsoever and may in fact secure an even more loyal user base in the longer term.

Apple's Mac OS X could potentially pick up a few users who react in a knee-jerk way to Redmond's measures -- but they may just as easily look at the cost and annoyance of shifting away from familiar turf and decide to grudgingly come back to Microsoft.

The anti-piracy push is a no-brainer for Microsoft. Any loss would be miniscule against the potential benefits of recouping some of the money they are legitimately owed. If you are an Apple or Linux advocate, I would not hold your breath for a surge of new permanent converts to your cause.

What do you think? Is the anti-piracy program likely to push people away from Microsoft products? E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au or use the talkback mechanism to give us your thoughts.

Iain Ferguson is ZDNet Australia News Editor.