Joe Wilcox at Microsoft-Watch is taking a lot of heat from his readership for daring to suggest that Microsoft prices for free not out of benevolence for its users but to attack its competitors. I am doing a series of articles about “free” database software on theOpenSourcery.coms – and what readers appear to miss are 4 critical things:
1)Free does not mean Open Source – it is used by many commercial vendors not just Microsoft;
2)Free often means no support or users self support via a forum sponsored by the vendor. But just as often there is no support whatsoever;
3)Free often has feature/functionality constraints and deployment limits as in MS Visual Studio Express or Oracle XE;
4)Free is often used to strike at competitors through the following ploy: I sell two products that frequently get used together; my competitor specializes and sells only one of those products. So I give away the second for free and make it up in increased sales and/or prices for the first product. My competitor who has no first tied product, suffers.
A prime example is data warehousing. Microsoft sells SQL Server 2005 but gives away for free an OLAP Server, a Data Mining Server, a Report Server, and an ETL Service. Meanwhile BI companies who have no database to sell are seeing their growth rates decline because Microsoft largely is giving away their products for free.
Now just imagine you worked for one of those BI companies. Now just imagine that you attended Tech Ed in 1996 or 1997 when there was a Call to Action on Microsofts stage to develop BI applications for the upcoming greatly improved SQL Server (at this time Microsoft had no major BI offerings in the market). As a company and employee who acted in good faith to this Microsoft Call to Action, would you not feel betrayed? And at the very least you would feel attacked by free BI tools but increased sales of SQL Server as a database and data warehouse.
Now the readership commenting at Microsoft-Watch seemed to be appalled that Joe would dare to suggest that these are competitive practices engaged in by Microsoft on a regular basis. But Joe has all the evidence of a 2 year antitrust trial plus payments made by Microsoft to AOL/Netscape and Sun for billions to settle lawsuits coming out of that case.
To be sure, Microsoft is not the only software vendor using free to attack its competitors – CA, IBM, Oracle and others have and are currently using such tactics. But Redmond is the leading exponent of free-for-competitive-attack marketing; which is the essence of Joes argument.
So for the readership to:
a)deny the practice occurs except out of benevolence on the part of Microsoft (or any other vendor);
and b) fail to distinguish the difference between free trials with limited capability or time-to-use or deployment restrictions versus free for perpetuity as in the case of IE and IIS (the latter of which is now no longer free – just try to download IIS for free on the Microsoft website) – this is either naivete or plain ornery, stubborn if not belligerent short-sightedness.