By Mike Holderness, 10 December 1999
Image: Microsoft's new president, Steve Ballmer

Mike Holderness on the iron ‘embrace’ of Microsoft Net

In the hands of geeks and free software types, the idea of renting software components seemed brilliant. You run a basic word-processor. It’s simple, small and speedy. If you suddenly need to deal with revision histories for a one-off interaction with bureaucrats, you rent a plug-in module for a pittance a day. If you need to spell-check one sentence in Finnish, you can do that too: micropay €0.02 direct to a philologist in Turku.

But when Microsoft decides to ‘embrace and extend’ the concept, pick your own Anglo-Saxon translation for what that implies. As soon as the corporation’s new President Steve Ballmer catches on – as we think he did amidst the marketspeak of the microsoft.NET announcement on 26 June – the drawbacks are soon to follow.

How better to retain control of your product than to ensure that the users never actually have a copy? They rent it from the network, and it deletes itself as soon as the meter runs out. Bugs gain instant deniability (“that must have been version Word.2003.18.12:04:12:56.4, not the afternoon version”). Geeks are already laying bets on how MS will break the eXtensible Markup Language standard to make everything proprietary, and we think the odds are in their favour.

Mike Holderness <mikeh AT>