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Take your business elsewhere (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Back during my teenage years in the 60s, I vaguely remember threatening to “take my business elsewhere” to merchants who looked askance at my fringed vest and bellbottoms. (In retrospect they had a point, but luckily all photographs of that period have been blissfully mislaid.)

It scares me to think of the IS managers who must have missed having similar experiences. Take as an example Microsoft’s elimination of concurrent licensing for small businesses. According to fellow InfoWorld columnist Ed Foster, customers are up in arms about this. They’re bothered that Microsoft can so easily force them to spend more, just to stay legal.

When technical matters leave you confused, try to find parallels in other industries. So let’s imagine General Motors decided to make leasing illegal. Would you (a) complain about their unfair business practices; (b) take your lumps and buy one of their cars when you’d really wanted to lease; or (c) shake your head at their stupidity and take your business to Ford?

Microsoft may have a monopoly position in the minds of many IS managers, but they don’t have a monopoly in the marketplace. WordPerfect and WordPro have just as much feature-bloat as MS-Word, and I’m confident Novell and IBM/Lotus would be more than happy to take your money.

Face facts: most IS Managers buy Microsoft products because that’s an easy way to make a safe decision in what has become a commodity marketplace. You have alternatives.

Take the emotion out of selecting your basic PC software, and list your selection criteria. Features? They all have lots of features. Ease of use? They’re all Windows programs – like it or not, Windows imposes a certain sameness to the user interface. Speed? They’re Windows programs – speed is a thing of the past.

Right now, most IS Managers have made “product has a long-term future” their only criterion for selecting a word processor, spreadsheet and database – the basic three applications. By doing so they’ve created a self-fulfilling prophesy guaranteed to transfer money from their company coffers to Microsoft.

Take the emotion out of selecting your basic PC software: where’s the risk in taking your business elsewhere? Novell may not find a buyer for WordPerfect and it may vanish from the landscape? Could happen. Then you’d have to convert to something else at a HUGE EXPENSE!

How big? That depends on how you do cost accounting. My guess: the difference between what you’d spend anyway on a version upgrade and the cost of a “competitive upgrade” (what you really pay when you change products) just won’t be that great.

Given the dull sameness of all Windows software, you won’t have a lot of end-user retraining to worry about. At most you’ll have to give your end-users a one-hour orientation.

How about your ability to exchange documents with customers and suppliers? MS-Word has become the de facto standard word processing format, after all.

True enough. Here again you have alternatives, though. You can send “Rich Text Format” files (extension of .rtf) instead – all word processors can read them. You can send Adobe Acrobat files instead, if you like – the Acrobat reader is widely available.

Or, start using HTML as your standard document storage format. You lose some formatting ability you rarely use in the first place. You gain plenty:

You can exchange documents with the rest of the known universe – everyone can view them using any Web browser.

You can manage all company documents using inexpensive “Intranet” technology. It won’t be hard to let users publish their own documents on your internal Web servers as easily as you may use shared directories now.

You’ll be able to choose from dozens of HTML-authoring tools, letting you buy in a highly competitive marketplace – always good for the corporate checkbook.

Microsoft certainly hasn’t acted in the best interests of its customers. It doesn’t have to – it may choose to as a marketing tactic, but it has no obligation to do so.

Don’t like it? Take your business elsewhere. That’s the nature of a capitalist economy, and the requirement for maintaining one.