Several developments from Microsoft make one wonder whether it isn’t time to think about alternatives to the same old Microsoft Office/Microsoft Windows desktop computer combination.

A year ago, I would have (and did) encourage the Windows 2000 Professional operating system for new desktop computers, and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer) for a standard software suite for staff and students. This is a solid, reliable combination, and represents some of Microsoft’s best efforts to date.

Now what? Microsoft has announced Office XP, the next version of office. It is available in the open licensing program for $54.00 a seat for the academic version. The OLP basically means, you must buy in lots of five seats. Office 2000 is no longer available. Of course, in the short term, we’ll be compelled to buy XP licenses. If you buy onesees and twosees, (I know a few non-profits who do this), you’ll pay a lot more for single-user copies, and end up having to register them on the phone or over the internet when you install them. The same applies for “activation” of Office on new computers from Dell. You can use Word or Excel up to 50 times before calling Bill and registering.

I do not install software illegally, and as a network manager I spend considerable time educating clients and end-users about the

perils of pirating software. What I find galling is the lack of good software tools for license managment, and a sensible policies for selling software. A sensible policy would include things like concurrent licensing, so that organizations could buy and use what they need and not what Microsoft thinks they should have.

Furthermore, Microsoft’s sales model is moving toward a time-limited “software subscription” or rental, the “software as electricity model”. In other words, at some arbitrary point after you have paid for your software, you will need to pay for it again just to keep using it.

The upshot is that users and IT managers should be keeping their eyes open for alternatives. Right now this seems to mean the Linux operating system and two or three office suites, including Star-Office and the Corel WordPerfect Office suite. In the past both of these suites seemed seriously flawed, but they are improving rapidly. I hope that in a year or two, I’ll be able to confidently recommend one or more alternatives to Microsoft’s offerings.

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