Microsoft’s vision for the future: pay-per-use Windows, Office, IE, etc.

I quit using Microsoft’s software (most notably, the Windows operating system) on my computers¬† in 2002, and have purchased no new Microsoft hardware (keyboards, mice, game consoles, media players, etc) for my own use (actually, none at all, really) during those six years and change. Nothing makes me more glad I left Microsoft’s world than a recent patent application by Microsoft for pay-per-use software, as reported by CNet.

My personal favorite quote from the CNet article:

Microsoft’s patent application does acknowledge that a per-use model of computing would probably increase the cost of ownership over the PC’s lifetime.

Gee, you think? This is Microsoft we’re talking about here, not a company known for making it less expensive for the people at the end of the supply chain.

The free software fans won’t care for this one either:

Integral to Microsoft’s vision is a security module, embedded in the PC, that would effectively lock the PC to a certain supplier.

Translation: Forget just installing your favorite GNU variant or other free operating system in place of Microsoft Windows, Cash Vacuum Edition.

A close friend of mine once remarked one day we’d get a Windows bill the same way we get our electric bill, phone bill, cable TV bill, etc. For a long time I didn’t believe him.

If you’ve been thinking about making the move to free software, this is a good time to do it. Even if you don’t, when this patent is granted (let’s be realistic, this is Microsoft we’re talking about, it almost certainly will), be very leery of just walking into your favorite electronics store with the idea of erasing whatever version of Windows is on the PC before replacing it with what you want; you might wind up very unhappy with the results.

It’s your freedom, and your money. Help keep it that way; just say no to this sham.

A truly embarrassing truth for wireless phone companies

A recent story in the New York Times (which I learned about by way of an entry in Techblog) exposes quite a bit about how wireless carriers transmit text messages (SMS). These articles (the NYT article in particular) are good reads for the terminally curious. I’ll summarize the main points for those readers who lack the time, however:

  • Text messages ride the control channel, space normally used to control operation of the network (hence its name).
  • Thus, text messages cost very little, in fact almost nothing, for the wireless carriers to pass along.
  • The 160-character limit comes from the length of a call set-up message.

Now, combine these points (particularly the first two) with the fact that all wireless carriers which charge separately for text messages, have doubled the rate for casual use messages over the past three years ($0.20 now versus $0.10 before). If anything, this rate should have gone down with time, due to advances in technology, not up.

I have always smelled a very faint odor of bovine excrement even during the dime-a-message era. Something told me it can’t possibly cost the wireless carriers this much per message, even with an allowance for a reasonable profit margin. Turns out I had a pretty good hunch. Unfortunately it took the greed of the wireless carriers to turn the right heads (Senator Kohl) and trigger a closer look.

The profit margin today is anything but reasonable. This makes the long-distance rates of the AT&T monopoly era (often a full order of magnitude what they were after the deregulation of telephone long distance) look like the convenience store clerk keeping the penny when you’re owed change of $0.71 on a soda. If the phone companies were selling gasoline, we’d probably be up to $8/gallon, with station owners scrambling to prepare for an inevitable $10/gallon (most current signage only goes up to $9.999).

Am I going to cancel my text messaging plan? Of course not. I will, however, follow this closely and hope we at least get reform, if not some of the money back.

(All currency amounts are US dollars.)

The human nature of sharing vs. felony on the high seas

This recent article in Coding Horror (linked from TechBlog) at first glance appears to be at first about murder and theft on the high seas. Oh wait, sorry, need to take a closer look. Let’s change that last part to “programmers getting ripped off by unauthorized copying.”

Surprisingly, the lead-in is a quote from letter from none other than Bill Gates to the Homebrew Computer Club, way back in 1976, when we were still about three to four years away from the first popular video games, and I was probably still learning to walk. The quote (which I am retyping from the image):

The feedback we have goten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however. 1) Most of these “users” never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent of Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

The blog post then goes on to make numerous other dubious comparisons with theft and murder on the high seas and unauthorized copying of software, citing a more recent example (World of Goo) where a similar 90% rate of unauthorized copying is claimed. (The only accurate part of that is ten different IP addresses are posting a high score for every purchased copy of the game, so this could be anywhere from 25% to 99.5% of unauthorized copies, of those choosing to post their high scores online, or possibly even higher or lower.)

For titles such as World of Goo, I think any divide-and-conquer, no-sharing, don’t-you-dare-help-your-neighbor license agreement is probably a mistake. This title should have been released as free software (as in GPL v3), selling copies and related merchandise to help fund further development.

Let’s face it, there’s a reason it’s a bad idea to equate the natural human desire to share with nautical felonies. The FSF has already said something about this and the way “piracy” gets thrown around in articles like the one in Coding Horror linked above just underscores that.