Are Ethics and Microsoft compatible?

Column by Marty Richman

What if you got into your one-year old car, put the key in the ignition and received a message that said you had to install the manufacturer’s $99 software update before you could drive to the supermarket? That’s what happened to my wife, only the car was her Word Starter program and the manufacturer was Microsoft.
 
My wife is a basic computer user and last year she received a new laptop for a gift with Windows 7 and Word Starter – Microsoft’s very basic word processing program – pre-installed. Word Starter is not a ‘try-out’ program; it does not have an expiration date.
 
As part of our security routines, we both regularly install Microsoft’s updates, which are usually related to security risks in their programs and operating systems because once a vulnerability is discovered, it flies around the world in an instant and there are thousands of crooks and malcontents just waiting to wreak havoc with the information. Based on this good and necessary habit, my wife had no reason to decline a regular update from Microsoft or suspect foul play on their part.
 
It was only after the ‘update’ was installed that she discovered she could no longer access her Word Starter documents. The icons and document types had changed and when she double clicked them, a message came up directing her to purchase Microsoft Office 2010 to open the document. The cheapest version was the Home Primer edition for $99.
 
The document was still there, the Word Starter program was still installed, but the opening routine used by many basic users – double clicking the document – directed you to buy a new Microsoft product if you wanted to access your own work. Right clicking on the document to show the “open with” window did not show Word Starter as an option, so she was stumped.
 
What Microsoft had done was install a non-activated version of Office 2010 on her computer and it had taken over all the Word Starter documents. They would activate it for you – just send money.
 
I did find a workaround by opening Word Starter first and then selecting the document from the file menu, but documents remained the wrong ‘type.” To solve the problem and put it all back to the way it was requires a little more knowledge. You must uninstall Microsoft Office 2010, but make sure you do not uninstall versions of Microsoft Office Starter 2010; there may be a few. This can be very confusing for a basic user, if you are not sure you can do it get some help.
 
But the fix does not address the real problem – is it ethical to install an ‘update’ designed to force users to buy new merchandise by intentionally disabling functions on software they have paid for in full? I don’t believe it is and I do not believe this was a mere oversight, most Starter users are basic users and many would not realized they are being bamboozled. What’s Microsoft’s defense – we are incompetent. They could have and should have clearly made this a fully explained and user selected option, not a default.
 
One of the fundamental issues with any software is compatibility – will the software work with the operating system. Now the new question is, are ethics and Microsoft compatible?
 

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.