Microsoft kicks off the year of the audit

CIOs would do well to consider open source as a defense against software audits by Microsoft and other increasingly desperate enterprise software vendors.

CIO.com offers a sobering reminder as to one potential downside to proprietary licensing: when vendors get desperate for revenue, auditing for "piracy" can help them clean up.

Piracy is illegal and wrong. But sometimes piracy is in the eye of the beholder, and it's a safe bet that if the beholder is Microsoft or some other large enterprise software vendor, it's going to win any dispute over illegitimate licenses. Just ask Ernie Ball, who had the unfortunate pleasure of greeting an unannounced, Business Software Alliance-sponsored raid by U.S. marshals on his office a few years back.

From the CIO.com article:

Companies, individuals, and even government bodies are at risk of being audited. On October 27 the Business Software Alliance (BSA) intensified its crusade against piracy and filed suits against nine individuals in the U.S. and U.K. for selling illegal copies of software over the Internet. The BSA also filed suit against Kiryat Yam, a city in Israel, on behalf of Microsoft for purportedly using unlicensed Windows products on their employee computers.

Thinking it won't happen to you is a naive and risky attitude to take. Even if Microsoft or the BSA don't come knocking on your door right away, Global Anti-Piracy Day could indirectly lead to your organization being investigated. Part of the resellers' audits includes them granting Microsoft access to lists of customers who "purchased" software and this could lead auditors directly to enterprise end-users--not a happy thought for most CIOs.

As a CIO you have at least two choices:

  1. Stringently enforce internal software auditing policies so as to closely monitor every line of code that makes it onto your company's computers;
  2. Switch to open source which can offer equivalent or better functionality at significantly lower total cost of ownership (not to mention acquisition cost), plus can rid you of the need to count licenses.

Open source is not a panacea to piracy, of course: commercial open-source vendors expect to get paid for supported software that enterprises deploy. (Red Hat's biggest competitor, according to sources within the company? Unpaid use of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux software.)

But open source is a fantastic way to get the BSA off the CIO's back. In this year when proprietary software vendors will likely becoming increasingly desperate for revenue, the friendly face of open source may be a welcome alternative to the threatening mutterings of the BSA.

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