Oblivious No More

Two weeks ago, I recounted the tale of Dale Frantz, CIO at Auto Warehousing Co., who had been harassed by a Microsoft sales apparatus that appeared to be oblivious to the ramifications of its shameless business practices (see Rotten Effort ).

Over a period of several weeks, Frantz was subjected to what we now know to be a standard operating procedure on the part of Microsoft Software Asset Management "engagement managers" -- key sales players on certain account teams. These managers will contact a company out of the blue with a claim that Microsoft has reason to believe the company's software isn't properly licensed. Stressing the risks associated with noncooperation, they insist on sending a consultant to do an audit, thereby greasing the skids for a lucrative Software Asset Management contract. Very bad form, you might say.

Now that the tactic has been exposed, it's Microsoft that suddenly finds itself on the defensive. But the company had reason to question the prudence of its strategy even before my column appeared.

The week before Frantz contacted me, he had already written to his engagement manager, Janet Lawless, to call her bluff. Fed up with the increasingly threatening tone of her correspondence despite his repeated attempts to demonstrate compliance, he finally told her that he wasn't going to waste anymore time with her and that she was to direct all future correspondence on the matter to his corporate attorney. But it's the way he concluded that e-mail that presumably got Microsoft's attention.

"The thing that is really sad about this whole affair is that Auto Warehousing Company is virtually a dedicated Microsoft shop, due to my (prior) professional respect for your company," Frantz wrote. "As I have spoken at global conferences and been quoted many times in the IT trade press, I have reinforced that AWC is a Microsoft shop and that we are proud of that fact. It is extremely unfortunate that it is now clear that your many detractors are actually the ones that are correct."

Since the column appeared, tens of thousands of people all over the world have become aware of the practice. Many others who were already aware of it, including readers in Scotland, New Zealand and Singapore, wrote to share similar experiences. Waleed Hanafi, a consultant in Singapore, said he was targeted by Microsoft several years ago when he was CIO at an international bank.

"I wrote back thanking them for their letter and for raising the issue of license compliance," Hanafi recounted. "I indicated that I believed we were substantially overlicensed [and] that we would be seeking refunds for unused licenses. I didn't hear from them again."

On the home front, an IT director in New York whose experience closely mirrored that of Frantz recalled how he offered to revive a legacy Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) installation to run an internal scan to demonstrate his compliance. Microsoft's perplexing response, the IT director said, was that it didn't trust the information he'd get from SMS and that it would be too time-consuming to validate the information's accuracy.

"As Microsoft continues these types of practices," the IT director noted, "it makes a much stronger case for me to push more and more of our systems toward Apple and Linux, which I've been doing for the last two to three years."

Indeed, many other readers wrote to say that this case has pushed them over the edge and that they plan to re-evaluate alternatives to Microsoft. You can bet Microsoft now recognizes the ramifications of its actions. Obliviousness carries a very high price.

Don Tennant

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon