It takes a fair bit of nerve to charge anything to fix up a botched product, but Microsoft's $14.95 price to get a physical copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3 really takes some beating for sheer gall.
While it was released earlier this year, XP SP3 has only recently started being pushed out to Australian users as part of Microsoft's Windows Update service. If Windows Update can install the update successfully, then you're typically looking at 70MB or so of downloading — painful, but not impossible. If the install chokes, though, Microsoft recommends downloading the full version of SP3, which is a rather less cosy 316MB.
For a corporate, that's not necessarily a problem, but for individual consumers on a slow connection, or with a minuscule download limit, it's a major pain. In the past, Microsoft has offered to send out CDs containing large patches, and it is doing that for SP3. What's shocking is the cost: $14.95 for a CD that will apparently take between two to four weeks to arrive at an Australian address. At that speed, even a dial-up download might be quicker.
When I asked Microsoft how it could justify this ridiculous state of affairs, I got the following reply: "Microsoft manages duplication of its software, including Service Packs, at regional duplication facilities. As such, the copy of Windows XP SP3 you are ordering is coming from Singapore, which reflects the shipping costs you've referenced as well as the time to delivery."
That partially explains the shipping delay, but it's a lousy excuse for the price.
Australia Post charges $7.75 to send a CD-sized package to Singapore, so why does sending one the other way cost twice as much? It's not likely to be materials or handling cost; the last time I checked, blank CDs cost rather less than $7 each, and if Microsoft can't manage the data processing from an online form in a cost-effective way, it probably should get out of the software business altogether.
Service packs shouldn't be an excuse for profiteering, but it's hard to view this particular exercise as anything else — and it's a lousy incentive for people to keep their machines secure.