Tell who's not installing Windows on their systems and win a prize
Are you as amused as I am by the story of Microsoft asking its customers to rat out their customers? The story, titled "Microsoft: Prizes for Rat Finks," has been circulating for a few days now. It first surfaced on the Website of Automation Access, a California-based systems integrator. The story includes the full text of a letter Microsoft sent to systems builders via email the last week of April. Although other reputable news agencies such as Information Week and the Wall Street Journal have reported the story since, and cute as the story is, I smell a rat. (See Resources for links to these articles.)
The Microsoft letter offers the systems builders prizes for reporting the identity of businesses that request bids for systems without Windows installed. But the prizes aren't automatically awarded. To earn points toward winning the prizes, you have to be the first to report a particular business to Microsoft. Further, the firm you report must be ordering "naked PCs" because it thinks that its site license with Microsoft covers the new systems. If both conditions are met, then you are awarded one point for each system requested in the bid.
But wait, there's more
And what are the prizes you can win? For 250 points, you get five Microsoft games. Honest. I'm not making this up. For 500 points, you get the games plus a watch. The grand prize, for only 1,000 points, is all of the above plus a barbeque grill and a travel chair. Retail values of these items are not available, however it does appear that Microsoft has spared itself as much expense as possible.
Ron Myers, vice president of one of the most successful systems builders in Austin, Texas, Wallingford Computer Services, confirmed that his company had received details of the offer from Microsoft in an email, and that he had discussed it with his Microsoft representative who confirmed its authenticity. Myers went on to say that he believes in strict compliance with licensing terms, and that it is in fact more profitable to sell systems with the operating system preloaded than as "naked PCs" because support costs can be greatly reduced when his company knows the configuration details of the installed operating system. But Myers also pointed out that his company values partnership with its customers more than five Microsoft games, and that if the company were to become aware of any licensing irregularity or misunderstanding, it would deal with the matter directly rather than report to Microsoft.
Jim Luke, an employee at Tinkertronics, another systems builder in Austin, said flatly that the prize offer was "a joke." Another industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the systems builders most likely to participate in the program are those that make unsuccessful bids to win the business agreements that come into question. Thus they will be policing their own competition as well as their customers.
Some have said that Microsoft plays the press like a violin. For years it has been fairly obvious to many that MS spin is routinely reported as news. Collusion? Not always. The fact is that Microsoft is simply smarter than the press that covers it, and this incident is just another example. And Microsoft's real message, the subliminal one which equates PCs without Windows as illegal attempts at software piracy, gets stated again and again.
What do you think is going on here? Post a note in my Version Control discussion in ITworld.com's Linux Forum.
- "Microsoft: Prizes for Rat Finks" http://www.aaxnet.com/news/M010425.html
- "Microsoft Hunts For Stool Pigeons" http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010430S0006
- "Microsoft Offers Prizes to Identify Orders of PCs Without Windows" http://interactive.wsj.com/articles/SB988757884731508312.htm (Subscription required.)
- Tinkertronics: http://www.tinkertronics.com
- Wallingford Computer Services: http://www.wallingford.com