Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More work, less drama

What do you do when your software vendor uses strong arm tactics? Not much, unless you have your own 100 kilo (200 pound) gorilla for a corporate lawyer.

Software is a very funny product. When you buy it from someone, you can copy it without telling that person, and use it on other machines. If the other person doesn't find out, does it hurt them? Apparently software manufacturers think that it does, and go to great lengths to build in copy protection so that people cannot effortlessly copy their product.

What would happen if Microsoft starts targetting the small companies in India to make them cough up money for software licenses? How many roadside DTP places in Bombay have legal Windows? Or for that matter, how many *cough*colleges*cough* actually have licenses for every copy of Windows they have?

In the US, people are shocked when I tell them that software in India is all free. You can buy a copy of Windows, along with all the usual software on it, for about Rs.50. (That's a little more than a dollar, and with the sinking dollar, it is getting more expensive for tourists to tank up on software when in India!) And from what I have seen, it works a lot better than legal copies of Windows, since it doesn't matter if you lose the CD case with the hundred character CD key. I've heard conspiracy theories about software manufacturers purposely turning a blind eye towards piracy, since it helps their user base grow.

But the thing that people should be thinking about is: what can I do if I get a legal letter from the Software Alliance in India? How much of my life hangs by proprietary software? This is not just for people using pirated software, but also people using legal software. Does your company have the legal weight required to fend off a bullying attack by a software vendor? Infosys and Wipro might be able to fight off a vendor, and a vendor isn't about to bully someone as big as Infosys or Wipro anyway. But smaller companies don't have huge legal teams.

What if a disgruntled employee of yours calls the Business Software Alliance or NASSCOM, to tell them that your company uses pirated software?

What if some students call their BSA or NASSCOM to tip off their college? When I was in college, this was something kids always wanted to do, but didn't.

Tipping off NASSCOM is completely anonymous, by the way, and you can use the services of various anonymous emailers on the web.

And what if your company does pay up regularly, but is strong armed into giving more money? Do you have all the copies of your sales receipts?

With the sudden growth in the use of computers, coupled with the huge amount of piracy, it is just a matter of time before it becomes lucrative for the software vendors to show up demanding money. Some companies, like Ernie Ball, will be forced to think of an exit strategy.

Personally, I like the concept of zero drama, and more work. In any case, a lot of work that Windows machines are put to is so mundane that it can be easily done with Linux + OpenOffice. Even in colleges, the biggest use for computers is to teach BASIC, C, C++ and Java programming, something that actually works better on Linux than on Windows.