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     How Microsoft licenses hurt kids in East Timor--and you!
     By David Coursey, AnchorDesk
     August 1, 2001 9:00 PM PT
     URL:

     There are days when Microsoft seems to go well out of its way to
     look really evil. And it is these days people remember, so I am
     going to wade into an issue involving Microsoft, an Australian
     charity, kids in East Timor, and you. Yes, you, because this
     matter--like so many these days--revolves around Microsoft's
     inability or unwillingness to fairly deal with intellectual
     property issues.

     As we've been reporting, Microsoft has gotten itself into what we
     Texans refer to as a pissing match with an Australian group that
     takes old PCs, refurbishes them, and ships them off to East Timor
     to be used by kids. That sounds like a wonderful program that we
     all should endorse.

     BUT MICROSOFT AUSTRALIA sent the charity, PCs for Kids, a letter
     telling them to stop installing old versions of Windows onto the
     machines. I presume an "or else"--in the best Aussie lawyerese, of
     course--was tacked on to the end of the Microsoft missive.

     The charity is quite reasonably upset, and you should be, too. The
     issue here isn't that Microsoft is picking on a kid's
     charity--though there's enough issue there to go around--but that
     Microsoft is taking the attitude that the OS license doesn't go
     with the machine. And that's important to everyone who has an old
     PC lying around they'd like to do something with.

     Now, it's a safe bet that these donated computers once had a
     Microsoft operating system on them. So why shouldn't they be
     allowed to have one reinstalled for free?

     WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT free upgrades. The Aussies are installing
     Windows 3.11 and 95, neither of which Microsoft still supports, on
     their refurbished machines. These are probably the operating
     systems that came with the donated computers, so what's the big
     deal with reinstalling the OS back onto the machine?

     Is Microsoft really saying that if you lose the OS on a machine
     and don't have original system disks you're supposed to go out and
     buy a new operating system? And what if the operating system the
     machine runs best--we're talking about old computers--isn't even
     available for purchase?

     This is Microsoft once again using its licensing agreements to
     keep people from doing very reasonable things with their
     computers, like making them work the way they did when they were
     purchased.

     MICROSOFT NEEDS TO REEVALUATE its licensing terms to allow
     customers--we are their customers, after all--to do reasonable
     things with Microsoft's intellectual property while still
     protecting Microsoft from rampant piracy. The new authorization
     scheme for Microsoft Office and Windows XP is, like this dispute
     with the Australians, tilted way too far in Microsoft's favor.
     These things need to change.

     Microsoft did extend an olive branch of sorts by announcing it
     would provide 150 packs of Windows 95 and 10 refurbished computers
     (estimated value: $33,370) as a goodwill gesture. The problem is,
     Microsoft shouldn't have to give anything at all--they should just
     solve the licensing issue.

     At the same time, the charity representatives who sneered at
     Microsoft's donation should be ashamed of themselves. Complaining
     that a donor doesn't give enough in public--as charity spokesman
     Colin Bayes did when he characterized the Microsoft effort as
     "half-hearted"--is rude and pointless. And the donors have an
     excellent way of retaliating against all charities: They close
     their wallets.

     ON THIS BASIS, I think the Aussies are lucky Microsoft is still
     speaking to them, much less making a donation. I'd have shut them
     off for bad manners and given my money to another group doing the
     same thing. End of story.

     But if we look at the real problem--Microsoft's licensing
     terms--then we can solve this problem for everyone, not just
     computerless East Timorese kids. This would also make it easier to
     stay off the hot seat--issues like this just aren't worth the
     price. Especially when you're wrong to begin with.

     As a final aside, I think it is poor form for journalists to
     personalize Bill Gates into these stories without also mentioning
     the billions of dollars he has donated to charitable organizations
     worldwide, including those working in East Timor. Compared to the
     assets of the Gates Foundation--$23.5 billion--the concerns about
     operating systems for old computers seem pretty small. Not
     unimportant, but we need to keep this in perspective. No business
     or charity can say "yes" to all the worthy requests they receive.

     Do you think Microsoft played Scrooge unnecessarily? Or do you
     think the charity should be happy with what they could get?
     TalkBack to me.