Saturday 12 October 2002

Tens of thousands of lies

It occurred to me that while it would have been cool to attend Digital ID World and to hook up with AKMA, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Chris Locke, Denise Howell, et al, much of the pleasure of hanging out with these blogging luminaries would have to be weighed against the knowledge that I’d paid money to be lied to and have my intelligence insulted by representatives of Microsoft, Verisign, and their ilk.

So what could have given me greater joy this morning than to discover from the Sydney Morning Herald site that Microsoft’s experiment with end-user subscription licensing (ESL) for Office XP had ended in a humiliating defeat:

The ESL program ran only in Australia, New Zealand and France. The three countries were used as trials for the program, which would have been introduced worldwide if it had been successful. It was not. Introduced in May 2001, it was an attempt to persuade end users to buy software on the same annual licensing model that corporations use to buy software from Microsoft and other software companies.

The deal was pretty simple. Instead of paying a one-off price for Office XP, you could pay a certain amount each year and automatically receive any updates for as long as you subscribed. The cost of Office XP was $1288 and the cost of the annual licence was $400, so the cost was about the same as buying a whole new office suite every three years.

Out of an estimated 10 million Microsoft Office users in Australia, New Zealand and France, only about 10,000 fell for Microsoft’s scheme. Not surprisingly, Microsoft blamed customers who refused to rent Office XP for the debacle, saying they hadn’t understood the subscription model. A press release titled “Microsoft Completes Pilot Program for Office XP” included this explanation:

Although Office XP Subscription Licence was a popular offering, research showed the subscription model was not well understood by customers participating in the pilot. Customers and computer resellers from across New Zealand, Australia and France had the opportunity to be the first in the world to assess the subscription licensing model. From their feedback, we learnt that customers find subscriptions a useful method of purchasing software but are not ready to fully adopt this process.

Completes Pilot Program… popular offering… not well understood… a useful method of purchasing software… not ready to fully adopt…

Give me a break. 99.9% of Office users understood the Subscription Licence perfectly: “What’s the benefit of spending AU$1200 over a three year period when I can pay the same amount and use Office XP for five or six years? Or, better still, why don’t I save $1200 by sticking with my (perfectly adequate) Office 97 or Office 2000? Thanks for nothing, Microsoft. I’ll pass.” And many of the 0.1% who did fork out their first $400 thought they were purchasing, not renting, the software.

I think I resent Microsoft’s attempt to spin their ignominious failure as a resounding success even more than I resent their greed and arrogance. But that’s the way modern corporations “build trust” with their “consumers”—by following the Joseph Goebbels dictum: “Repeat a lie thousands of times, and it will become the truth.”

Still, it seems to be working for George W. Bush: just say “weapons of mass destruction” thousands of times and the suckers will believe that’s the reason the US intends to invade Iraq.

Which is why it was so refreshing to read what Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesman, had to say about Russian support for the US campaign against Iraq:

“The devil will be in the detail of these [United Nations] resolutions, but our position is essentially pragmatic. What is interesting for us is our economic and financial interests.”

In other words, we know it’s all about oil, so show us the money.

If only Microsoft was as honest as these crafty ex-communists.



And I thought I was a Microsoft basher. I yield to your superior invective, sir.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 13 October 2002 at 01:42 AM

Ms. Salo,

I don't think Mr. Delacour's comments were particularly scathing. I a deal stinks, no amount of PR perfume will make it smell any less.

And the ESL program stank for the end user. I am one who has been sticking to my trusty old Office 97 for a few years, and expect to stay with it for a few more years.

Posted by: Dave Miller on 16 October 2002 at 02:33 AM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour