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How Microsoft can keep Win XP alive – and WHY: A real-world example

Redmond needs to discover the mathematics of trust

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Keeping Windows XP alive is good for everyone

It would take Microsoft a day, OK maybe a month, to crank out a patch that would tie XP systems to a subscription service somewhere, and thusly enabled them to receive ongoing support. Offering this ongoing support wouldn't solely benefit the companies and individuals running XP, it provides real-world benefits to Microsoft as well.

Such a move would start to rebuild trust. The total cost of support for XP is a minor marketing expense. If Microsoft could earn back customer loyalty and trust, then on that basis alone the costs of the program would be justified, even without any revenue from subscriptions.

My subscription plan would also see Microsoft get a significant chunk of businesses and individuals used to the idea of paying a subscription fee for their operating system. All of us aware that this is the ultimate goal Microsoft is fixated upon anyways, but they haven't found a way to sell it to the mass market as a Good Thing. This is one such way.

Microsoft also gets to look like they care about the human beings that are affected by their choices. In many ways, Microsoft's executives have more power to affect the day-to-day life of individuals and business than most of our planet's politicians. Making the cost of perpetual support for XP affordable to the hoi polloi gives them enough street cred to claim they really do give a bent damn about the customer.

Most important of all, an affordable support subscription like this helps decondition customers who are used to the idea of software having a useful shelf-life of a decade or more. You can keep whatever software you want, however old you want to keep it, but you'll pay Microsoft the cost of a new version every 3 years, no matter what.

Normally, I'd find that very premise offensive; if a company wants my money they have to offer me something of value. I don't pay taxes to corporations.

Yet here would be something of value. I pay Microsoft what they feel is their due, but if I don't find value in their latest offerings – say because I believe that Metro and the Ribbon bar were sent from hell to make us miserable – then I can cling to the past and pay for support.

The option to vote with my wallet, even when dealing with a monopoly, gives me the illusion of freedom and control over my own life. Both are important parts of my personal happiness, but for companies like the machinist discussed above happiness is secondary. The ability to stick to older versions is critical to the ongoing viability of running their business' IT securely... or at all.

Faith and the market

Microsoft is a company, and companies exist to make profit. Still, there are ways to go about making a profit that don't alienate the developers, partners and customers Microsoft depends on for tactical revenue and strategic ecosystem development. How Microsoft chooses to handle everything from product support to licensing influences my trust that Microsoft's goals are complementary to my own.

Microsoft's job isn't to force the market to comply with its "vision." Microsoft's job is to investigate the needs of the market and deliver goods and services that meet those needs, at a price the market will bear. This requires listening to – and engaging with – critics as well as loyalists.

The price of trust is a culture change. I know they can do it; they changed their entire corporate culture to make security a fundamental part of their software design. Now they need to make earning and retaining customer trust a fundamental part of every licensing choice, every marketing decision, and every strategy session.

A new generation is coming to power; people who are highly cynical regarding corporations and governments alike. They are virtually immune to traditional marketing and they are far more fickle than their predecessors. They are entirely aware that profit can be made by earning the loyalty of your customers instead of forcing the market.

The future belongs to those companies that can decipher the mathematics of trust. The question to hand is whether or not Microsoft is one of them. ®

Bootnote

* For those who got to this article Googling for possible solutions to the Windows 7 NetBEUI issue, I have found two:

  1. Under certain circumstances companies have been using NetBEUI when what they really need is LM announcing and 40-bit encryption. Enable these and see if what you need works.
  2. The Windows XP NetBEUI drivers may work on 32-bit versions of Windows 7, but you'll typically run into issues with the firewall, talking to computers on the local network that have IPv6 enabled, and it plays merry hob with network browsing; especially if you have multiple sites. Microsoft does not support this configuration at all. I do not know of a solution to make this work for Windows 7 64-bit.

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