Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 23/08/2003We're supposed to be objective, us journalists, at least some of the time. It's hard to be that with Microsoft, especially when you've just spent five hours fixing various Windows problems on a friend's laptop.

Friday 23/08/2003
We're supposed to be objective, us journalists, at least some of the time. It's hard to be that with Microsoft, especially when you've just spent five hours fixing various Windows problems on a friend's laptop. It gets harder, when you can't do your work or talk to your friends because security problems in Microsoft products have brought the Internet and attached hardware to a state of shuddering paralysis. But these are both in some way the natural result of a monopoly company devoted to market share above all else: blaming Microsoft for these is a bit like blaming a termite colony for eating your house -- it's true, but that's what these creatures are programmed to do.  You're not much of an entomologist if you make moral judgements about your subjects, and to some extent the same is true of those whose interest in bugs leads them to Microsoft.

Where it becomes almost inhumanly difficult to gag back cries of frustration and anger is when Microsoft chooses to say things grossly at odds with reality, when it can make no possible difference to anyone. Take today's story about the Thai government's cheap PC scheme . The Thais decided to make and distribute PCs as a welfare scheme, with the price pegged at $250. There's no way you can do that and include Windows and Office, the combined cost of which is around $600, and Microsoft said as much. Fair enough. So the Thais put Linux on the computers, hit the price point and shifted boxes in huge numbers.

At which point, Gartners reports, Microsoft realised a couple of things. First, there was an up-and-coming Asian economy where Linux, not Windows, was going to be the de-facto standard; and second, even if these people wanted to use Windows they were going to use pirated copies --- the full version costing the equivalent of a months' wages. (So much for product activation!) Result: Office and Windows combined now costs $40 on this scheme.

My goodness. Looks like competition works, eh, readers? Microsoft is able and willing to respond, just like any other company. But no -- this isn't what happened, according to Microsoft. The official line is that Gartners analysis was wrong and Microsoft was purely acting because it "was a great opportunity" that "matched our vision". And much more, by the yard.

Why? Why is it so hard to say "We didn't want to change our pricing policy, but now we realise that the market is different and we're responding accordingly"? Why produce this saccharine guff, when not one person in six billion is gullible enough to inhale it and smile? Is Microsoft intent on turning every possible opportunity for image rehabilitation into an exercise in patronising arrogance? Is it that frightened of officially admitting reality?

Gah. GAH. GAH!!!!!