On December 15, Microsoft will retire a range of legacy products from its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Subscriber Downloads service, which the company designed to give developer subscribers access to the company's most recent technologies and products. Citing its settlement with Sun Microsystems over the use of Microsoft-specific Java technologies in its products, Microsoft will pull Microsoft BackOffice Server 2000, Microsoft MapPoint 2002, the Microsoft Office 2000 suite and related products, Microsoft Office XP Developer, Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, and Windows 98. All these products include Microsoft Java Virtual Machine (JVM). However, critics and conspiracy theorists have noted that the software giant has until September 2004 to cease support for its products that include JVM. Why is the company removing access to these products almost a year ahead of schedule?
"Due to a settlement agreement reached in January 2001, Microsoft is phasing out the Microsoft Virtual Machine from its products," MSDN Subscriber Downloads Program Manager Andy Boyd posted on the MSDN Subscriber Downloads site late last week. "As of December 15, 2003, we will phase out several product families, and remove the Microsoft Virtual Machine from others." Those largely unidentified products include XP Professional Edition with Microsoft Office FrontPage, some versions of Windows NT 4.0, and Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2000; the company promises that by the end of 2003, these products will no longer include JVM.
This change isn't the first time Microsoft has prematurely removed products from MSDN. In February 2000, when the company released Windows 2000, it alerted MSDN subscribers that it would no longer automatically ship NT 4.0 on CD-ROM but would require subscribers to specifically ask for the product if they wanted it. Following a huge number of complaints from its customers, Microsoft restored NT 4.0 to the default CD-ROM set that subscribers received.
So is this incident similar to Microsoft's 2000 faux pas? I don't believe so. Unlike the default CD-ROM (and now, optionally, DVD) set that subscribers obtain, MSDN Subscriber Downloads is specifically designed to let programmers download the most recent Microsoft products. Although some of these products (e.g., Office 2003, Win98) are arguably still in wide use, most MSDN subscribers have already received at least several copies of the products on CD-ROM or DVD. But that logic isn't stopping Microsoft's critics and competitors from crying foul. "It seems to me that \[Microsoft\] would be keen to use any excuse to get customers to 'upgrade,' spend more money, and get more locked in to things like Office XP's \[Digital Rights Management--DRM\]," Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist, told eWEEK. Office XP doesn't include DRM technology, so what Phipps meant by this comment is unclear; I suspect he was referring to Microsoft Product Activation, which prevents casual software piracy.