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- Subject: [SLUG] FWD: ZDNet: Printer Friendly - How Microsoft licenses hurt kids in East Timor--and you!
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- Date: Fri Aug 3 14:09:06 2001
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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
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
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
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
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.