|Microsoft has long had a conflict of interest about software piracy. By pretending not to notice, they encouraged the use of unlicensed Microsoft software, thereby letting dependence on their formats, packages, and protocols grow. The time is approaching when that will change.|
Microsoft has historically made much noise and took little action against unlicensed users of its software. In the case of some developing countries, the reason was obvious. Let them develop a US-style de facto Microsoft business standard and they then become owned by Microsoft.
We've all seen Windows users circulate simple text-only notes in Microsoft Word .doc files. While it may be annoying to those without .doc capabilities (including users of older versions of Word, itself), it is a beautiful thing from Microsoft's point of view. It perpetuates their monopoly while forcing upgrades among the faithful, all in the same simple act. The widespread use of proprietary formats tends to lead to even more use of those same formats.
However, as Microsoft's markets in the US approach the saturation point -- and start to recede -- they are faced with a dilemma. Do they try desperately to hold on to as much market share as possible, or do they cash in while accepting -- and accelerating -- the inevitable decline in share?
I think Microsoft will be increasingly choosing the 'cash in' option as the pressure rises to keep earnings high. The first victims of this gradual policy shift will be business and government users in developed countries with strong IP protection laws.
Next, in approximate order, comes consumers in developed countries and business / government users in rapidly developing countries -- especially those countries seeking easy access to western markets. Last to pay up will be students and consumers in the poorest developing countries.
But, for all of you still getting a free ride from Microsoft, the good times will inevitably come to an end. They are simply waiting until you, and your compatriots, are too invested in the knowlege, skills, and standards of Microsoft products to quit. Then, they will charge you.
If you are an unlicensed Windows user who can't afford to someday become a profit center in the vast Microsoft empire, you should consider the alternatives. I recommend you start by downloading and burning a live Linux CD of Knoppix, booting it up on your Windows box, and trying it out. It's free and since it runs straight from the CD, you don't need to install it on your hard drive.