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A few questions to ponder with your morning coffee. If you're like too many corporate IT managers, that coffee is sloshing around a Styrofoam cup as you rush from crisis to meeting to meeting to "unforeseeable" emergency.
If you're reading this on your own personal system at home, you don't have that constant headache, but don't get too smug: if you're running the most commonly-used PC operating system and office software, you very likely know much less about the intricacies of your system -- and you're less well-prepared in the case of a disaster or emergency affecting your treasured PC.
Are you really in control of your IT systems? Do you know what is running on your desktops? On your servers? Do you know how much you're going to spend on supporting your IT over the next n years, whether it be your own individual desktop or laptop PC or a corporate fleet of thousands of user PCs and dozens or hundreds of servers?
How much control do you have over that spending? Can the vendor that you licensed your word processing software from, for instance, revoke your permission to use the software legally? (Have you even read the legalese in the license agreement, or had a lawyer explain it to you?)
If you're a business user or manager, you know about uncontrolled risk and the havoc it can cause. If you're an end user, let's play through a thought exercise. You're probably using a PC running Microsoft Windows™, and as of 2009, you are highly likely to be running Windows XP. (Fortunately, Windows 7 means you won't ever see Vista on those machines, but don't think you're completely out of the woods.) Here you are, happily browsing the Web, reading and writing email, and so on... all of a sudden, your hard disk makes the kind of screeching, rattling noise that informs you that it is dying a most horrible, irreversible death. If you're a business user, you call your IT support hotline and tell them your problems. "No problem", they say, "but we don't have any more XP licenses, and your PC doesn't meet our standards for supporting Vista or 7. Do you have the budget for a new PC install?" "A new PC", you grumble to yourself. "This one's just fine; it just needs a new hard drive, is all. And we finished our IT-purchasing budget gearing up for that special project that's already behind schedule!' More time and effort (and, therefore, money) spent scrounging around for a solution – because your organization failed to foresee and control the effects of business tools that are not under your final control. Licensing a piece of commercial software is not like buying a carton of paper: the manufacturer of the paper can't use your normal use of the paper to force more money out of you. In contrast, Microsoft has assumed more and more control over users' use of their software, exercising the rights they granted themselves in their End User License Agreement which was legally "agreed to" when the software was installed.
If you're a home user, your reaction to the death of your hard disk and everything on it probably is more along the lines of: "Oh, dear," you think, "it's a good thing I just finished running my backups." (You do back up your important files, don't you?) You've got the recovery CDs that came with the PC safely tucked away; you just go over to the local PC hardware shop, buy a new hard drive that's twice as big as the old one (for a lower price), install it and....Windows asks you for activation. You let it connect to the Internet, and....nothing. You call the handy telephone number displayed by the Activation Wizard (as of early 2009, that number in North America is 1-888-571-2049; consult the Activation Wizard for the number in your country). As you're waiting on hold, you flip through some "Happy New Year 2013" cards that came in the post last week. A friendly voice comes on, and after you explain your situation, regretfully informs you that activation codes for XP are no longer available; perhaps you'd care to purchase a license for the newest version of Windows and Office? (The technical term for this sort of sales pitch is a "shakedown").
This (admittedly hypothetical) description is consistent with previous history, and with what many analysts consider "sound business practice" for the vendor. Licensing, acquiring and installing the newer operating system and office suite may in fact be relatively fast and straightforward, but for two things: you've now spent quite a bit of money (on software and possibly hardware) that you likely hadn't planned on, and you aren't certain that everything (all your other software, hardware, etc.) will work as well on the new platform as it did on the earlier one. Several independent analysts have cited application, driver and hardware incompatibilities as one of the main reasons for the slow transition to Windows Vista; "too many" people and companies have their systems working reasonably well (security aside), and don't feel the need for the money, time and risk involved in moving to a system that, for most people, doesn't have many immediately obvious benefits. Certainly one might consider the possibility of going through this same sort of exercise in a few years, and wish for alternatives. One failure might be thought a tragedy; a multitude of failures, a statistic. Don't let your business become a statistic!
Better, then, to bite the bullet and transition your systems. But if you're going to migrate, wouldn't it be good to move to a system that gave you more control and flexibility, rather than the vendor?