MS squeezes out free service pack distribution

A future where only registered users can get the gear, and only direct from MS, looms

Further evidence that Microsoft is moving to control and/or charge for distribution of fixes and updates has emerged. Yesterday (Win98 SE hits stores) the company began taking orders on its Web site for direct sales of Windows 98 SE and for the latest Windows 98 service pack, although the latter is not as yet available for free. Microsoft's motivation at this juncture would seem to be to establish strong links between itself and Windows users, rather than to increase its revenues by charging for what are essentially bug-fixes. But that's a logical next step - Microsoft documentation revealed earlier this year showed that the company wished to move to an 'annuity' model for operating system sales, where users would effectively end up paying an annual fee for continued use of the product. By exerting greater control of the distribution of fixes and updates, by tightening up on product registration procedures and by introducing Windows 98-specific systems such as the Windows Update site, the company is starting to evolve some kind of 'rental' system. Yesterday we suggested that it was becoming increasingly difficult for magazines to obtain fixes and updates from Microsoft for distribution on free cover-mounted CDs. We've since been contacted by an editor who compiles these for a major publishing company - understandably, he wishes to remain anonymous. "It is my job to compile the CD each month, and for our last issue I tried to get the definitive list of MS updates and add-ons, focusing on Office and Windows 95," he says. "I was after the usual service packs, bug fixes and updates, which in the past I had never had any trouble in securing. I was somewhat miffed then when Microsoft reduced my submitted list of about forty updates to a mere six. I am now finding it increasingly difficult to get these sorts of items out of Microsoft, meaning our readers are forced to waste time attempting to download them, which is another contentious issue!" Microsoft's explanation, he says is that it wants users to come to the Microsoft site and "read all the information supplied" rather than just having users picking the software up off third party CDs. That of course casts an ominous light on Microsoft's current campaign to accelerate the deployment of broadband Internet access - once the company has got over the problem of download times, it'll be able to control the distribution of everything, even vast NT service packs. The acid test for now will be when, or even if, Microsoft allows free cover mounts of the current Win98 service pack. It is highly unlikely that magazines will be allowed to distribute the Win98 SE Update, which Microsoft is distributing for $19.95, but if it blocks distribution of the service pack it will be even clearer which way the wind is blowing. In the interests of balance, by the way, we should point out that our informant says: "it is definitely a squeezing trend, although it is not just limited to Microsoft, although they are by far the worst culprits." So there you are - they're all at it. ®

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