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Microsoft tentacles squirm deeper into software hosting

Redmonda locuta est; causa finita est

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Your PC is about to become obsolete. Microsoft's recent acquisition of 'hosted solutions' outfit Great Plains Software for a cool $1 billion marks a significant advance towards the 'Final Solution' of reducing software users to mere paying guests at the M$ digital banquet, and PCs to mere access devices.

We've long known that the Beast was inclining in this direction, but it was not until they actually bought a successful firm dedicated to software hosting that could one say the dream is being realised.

Great Plains makes point-and-drool software for small to medium-sized online businesses. It also successfully hosts such software, and this bit, far more than the much-touted (by M$ PR bunnies) leg up in the Mom and Pop business market, represents the ultimate dream.

Don't be fooled by the chirpy half-truths in the company press release, in which we are told that "the acquisition represents a major step in [Microsoft's] entry into the small and medium business applications market."

Utter rubbish. It's Great Plains' success as an Application Service Provider (ASP) that most tickles the Beast's hideously scaly underbelly.

The lair of the white worm

So Redmond owns the software you use and controls access to your data. It's for your benefit, after all; it's cheaper than owning it, and you do love a bargain, don't you? It's more secure too, we are told, because you communicate directly via a pre-encrypted client-to-client link in which you have no opportunity to stuff things up. Hell, you don't even know or have access to the key -- and what could be more secure than that?

Don't mind that the Beast has to maintain access to your network so it can bill you accurately for use of its, not your, software. Don't mind that the accounting is handled by a funky little chip pre-installed on your mobo which awards you the distinction of being a 'trusted client'. It's all for your protection. And don't mind that the magic chip measures how much time you've spent using the software you no longer own. This is all about trust; and trust is paramount, isn't it?

All right, it's unfortunate that your data has to be stored on the M$ trusted network along with the software you use, but this could not be helped. Your PC no longer needs, or even has, a hard drive. It has, instead, a non-volatile ROM chip which identifies all the software you're eligible to be billed for using, the amount of time you've spent playing with it, and your credit details. It's brilliant, but God help you if there's a stuff-up.

Unable to connect your otherwise worthless and virtually empty PC to the remote Microsoft server where your software and personal files are stored, you have a problem and a half. Perhaps a Winter ice storm has crippled your ISP; perhaps you've neglected to 'fund' the magic mobo chip; perhaps you're simply broke.

Generally, a broke company can do limited business so long as the lights stay on, and so maintain hopes of extracting itself from imminent ruin by the force of determined cleverness. Not yours, sucker. No, your billing software is out of reach; your customer database is curtained off; and so the means of rescue are off limits. You're flying blind.

We hope you printed out all your crucial files; but as the Beast charges you -- through its trusted-client magic chip -- for each hard-copy page you dare to make, and because you thought you'd just economise on that, there is no paper backup of whom you owe and who owes you. Truly, you are fucked.

You search in vain for a temporary remedy. The UCITA (Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act) tells you that all the bizarre rights M$ claims, whether you read or agreed to them or not, are in full force, and that all the common-sense rights which you thought you should have are null and void. Damn. Corporate flacks have been writing legislation again, and you have no legal recourse. None at all.

Redmond has spoken; the case is closed. ®

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