Remember when it was the government you had to worry about? Well, the near-monopoly Microsoft Corp. has on operating systems and business software is going to surprise a lot of people next week.
Right now, the company offers a couple of ways for you to buy software: the full retail package and the upgrade version. To qualify for the upgrade, you must own an earlier version of the product or, in some cases, a competing product.
On Aug. 1, Microsoft's new upgrade policy goes into effect for business users with as few as five computers. It works roughly like this: You buy the software, then you pay for permission to upgrade it over a three-year period.
If you want to perform a little detective work, to see if you can uncover information about Microsoft's new program, you are welcome to try your hand using one of the most complicated, poorly designed, generally user-unfriendly and unhelpful Web messes we've ever seen. We challenge you to follow all their links and quickly learn what you need to know.
Although Microsoft offers no assurance that any of their products will be upgraded during the life of the contract, the company's notoriously glitchy software poses a sort of reverse benefit for subscribers: There almost certainly will be upgrades.
The idea behind the company's "Software Assistance" program -- beyond current revenue for the greedy giant -- is that users who don't purchase the package subscription will have to pay the full retail package price for upgrades.
Research firm Gartner, Inc., projects that companies who opt out of the subscription program because they don't buy every new version that comes down the pike may well end up spending from 33 to 107 percent more to upgrade software.
Competitors have noticed. Corel's WordPerfect Office and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice are promoting much more user-friendly policies.
The Microsoft program doesn't affect home users or the smallest businesses. Yet. Do you think maybe they've forgotten about us?
Any time the big bear moans, you'd better be looking for a corner to hide in.
[For the record, the author grudgingly admits that he owns Microsoft common stock and too damn much of their software.]