måndag 25 februari 2008

Intellectual property rights and the 25 letter security code

A friend of mine came round last night for help in setting up her new laptop computer. This came complete with Microsoft XP and Office and other things ready loaded, but to keep it going for more than the 30 day trial period she had to buy a licence. I pointed out that she could have done everything she wanted using Open Office, legally and free of charge, but she preferred to cough up and use the Microsoft product. So the 25 letter security code had to be entered.

I had never set up a computer with Microsoft on it before. There are lots of screens with boxes and fields that have to be filled in or ticked, then you wait while it goes on line and verifies things. It all takes nearly as long as a Linux installation which once you have got it started, you can go away and leave to get on with its business. And you do not have to bother with the anti-virus software nonsense.

It all goes to show the power of advertising and the confidence that people will have in a brand label.

I haven't bought Microsoft products for years, ever since they kept me waiting for twenty minutes on their so-called help line whilst I listened to the company's nasty music whilst running up my phone bill, only to be told that the problem was nothing to do with them. I do not find their products particularly satisfactory or easy to use. They do not run well on old hardware, for a start. And the on-screen messages are often confusingly phrased. They have the helpful feature of trying to predict what you are trying to do but often get their guesses badly wrong. Why do so many people fall for this expensive con?

Microsoft's zealous defence of its intellectual property rights, to the inconvenience even of legitimate users of its products, is part of a bigger issue. The record and film companies are also trying to enlist government help by persuading them that the ISPs should be policed to prevent illegal downloading and piracy.

Really, they are missing the point. Films and music, like computer software, are no longer items that can be packaged in attractive boxes and given away as presents. They have been reduced to streams of data that can be transmitted down cables to the end users and loaded onto storage media and carried about. This is how people want to use them. The problems that the traditional entertainment companies are now experiencing is largely due to their committment to an outdated business model which technology has made obsolete. It is up to them to develop new business models which will allow talented artists and their agents to reap the rewards of their efforts, assuming, of course, that the distribution companies still have any role to play - which quite possibly they may not.

That livelihoods can still be made from free software has been demonstrated by the Linux operating system, which companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems are promoting as the means of implementing tailored solutions which businesses are perfectly willing to pay for.

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