Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

WGA and SPP: Normal People Don't Care

Joe Wilcox has a long and interesting post about Windows juxtaposed against the offerings of Web 2.0 companies, in respect to Microsoft's recently announced Software Protection Platform. He thinks that Web 2.0 companies have the better business model. Web 2.0 business models are great, but I don't think they'll last. Why? Because most rely on advertising to generate revenue. The concept is wonderful, as long as the economy is doing well. But as soon as the economy tanks, and companies scale back their spending, those Web 2.0 companies will take a hit.

And as socialist/communist as techies want to get regarding the concept that ideas/concepts/software should be free, the bottom line is... the bottom line. Human nature is best suited to free market economies (history proves this well), and it costs money to operate all those Web 2.0 organizations. And instead of just taking hits from a few big clients, these companies need to consider also taking hits from lots of smaller clients (consumers), or they won't survive through the next wave of innovation.

Besides that, he's comparing apples to oranges. Web 2.0 sites are hosted once and can run anywhere. Operating systems have to be installed on individual machines... making the ecosystem far more difficult to distribute/operate/maintain.

But that's not the real issue here. The real issue is the value of open v. closed models. When it comes to the Software Protection Platform / Activation / WGA, etc... most normal people don't care. It's something they have to deal with once when they buy a computer, and they've accepted it as a necessary aspect of dealing with something that is so easy to make an inexpensive exact duplicate of. It may be a rallying cry for techies who would rather have all the coolest stuff without ever having to pay for ANYTHING, as well as for the media companies who target them... but people like my Mom do not spend all day thinking about this stuff. And, I hate to burst that self-important bubble that most techies have blown up around themselves, but non-techies make up an overwhelming majority of computer users.

These people just want the stuff they buy to work. The only time they care is when it doesn't, or it doesn't allow them to do what other technologies do. DRM is a prime example of this. DRM deals with the same issue, but centered around media platforms. Most people don't care about DRM... until it interferes with the Right to Fair Use. If you buy any other product... be it a gun, a car, a chainsaw, a pen, or a knitting needle... you can do whatever the hell you want with it... because it is yours. DRM-protected content is the only product out there that prevents you from doing absolutely anything except for the original intent of the product. If I want to be able to move it to another machine that I own, shrink it for a handheld device, edit out the commercials (all things that the Right of Fair Use allows)... whatever... forget it. And THAT is what makes normal people mad about DRM.

IMHO, as long as SPP/WGA does not throw false positives with Vista & beyond, most consumers won't care that their machine will automatically activate itself within the first 72 hours of setting it up. They acquired it legally, and it's not a big deal. The ones that are pissed off are the ones that abused the old system, which was far more open. And now that is is closing, they are screaming bloody murder.

So where does "Fair Use" come into play in regards to Windows? Licenses, keys, and activation are in hundreds of thousands of other applications out there, not just Windows. Do people honestly think that you should be able to install a software product on an unlimited number of machines?

The answer to that question is "no". Most people know that you can only use the software you buy on one computer. The REAL reason why people are mad about SPP/WGA/etc is because the cost of acquiring additional Windows licenses for a single household is prohibitively expensive. You shouldn't have to pay twice as much for something that was only manufactured, distributed, and stocked once... there is zero additional cost involved. So most families unknowingly turn to "gray piracy" and install a single license of Windows on multiple computers. SO if that problem is solved, who is left to be mad, the Asian software piracy market? Oh darn... I feel your pain.

I spent a good portion of my time lobbying for Microsoft to correct the family licensing issue while I was in Redmond last week, and the feedback that I got was very encouraging... I think the right people are now aware of the problem. All we can do is wait and see.

In conclusion, I think Joe's article is interesting and thought provoking (at least it provoked a lot of thoughts for me). But I think the assessment is way off base. The Web 2.0 model has yet to see any long-term validation, and is not a valid platform for comparison against the Windows operating system.