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Dear Temptee: Beware of Microsoft's BizSpark

  • Open Source
  • Rant

There is devilry afoot in the Redmond offices. That tautology became stronger on the 5th of November with this press release:

SAN FRANCISCO, November 5 Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Microsoft BizSpark, a global program designed to help accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and early-stage startups. BizSpark provides startups and entrepreneurs with fast and easy access to current full-featured Microsoft development tools and production licenses of server products with no upfront costs and minimal requirements. BizSpark also provides technical support and market visibility. BizSpark is structured to take advantage of the resources and support of a global network of hundreds of organizations such as economic development agencies, university incubators, hosters and investors, including The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). These BizSpark Network Partners provide guidance, mentorship and resources to help drive startup success.

See full press release here.

You might consider this as a sign that Microsoft wants to support small and enterprising startups, but what's the real story behind this? The pessimist (or realist?) in me looks back at other Microsoft campaigns to build their customer base and assumed this is yet another attempt to lock people in to their proprietary formats and systems.

As someone who runs his own company based largely on only open source software, I find it hard to understand why people and organisations would opt for systems that lock you in even if it is cost-free. The problem here is the time-limit part of the deal. After the three years of cost-free access, you will be required to pay for the services you use, or migrate to another system.

Migrating is often an arduous task and most organisations will opt for lower short-term costs in licence fees over the cost of porting their systems to new infrastructure. The long term financial costs will keep adding up though, and over time the migration process will become more complex and less attractive. You will be heading down a spiral towards total dependence on Microsoft products!

Consider now a business such as mine that is not reliant on any proprietary software or services. I've been using these systems for well over three years now and have paid nothing and will continue to pay nothing. Sure, there are costs such as hardware, power, Internet access; but these are common across all businesses. I might also have spent a little more time in setting up my infrastructure initially, but having been a Windows administrator in a previous life I can attest to the fact that maintaining my infrastructure after deployment is less intensive and demanding than the Microsoft alternatives.

I'm also freer than any business that runs Microsoft products. If I want to change the way works for me, I can change it, or pay someone to change it for me. You cannot change the way Microsoft Word works. If I want to recompile the Linux kernel to increase performance or hardware compatibility, I can do that. You cannot run Windows on any hardware you like. If I buy a new computer, I can copy all of my applications over and run them on both machines at the same time. You can also do this, but that would contravene the end user licence agreement you agreed to when installing the software.

So tell me now, why would you take up Microsoft's BizSpark offer if the open source world can offer your business the same service with no lock-in, no cost and more freedom?


hi ben here are my answers; 1- it s not black or white. people can choose both. ex: Php on Windows Server. 2- Bizspark is software+ support + visibility. it s not only software, it s a package for people starting companies. You can get guidances and mentorship from qualified experts by joining BizSpark. 3- Bizspark is for entrepreneurs who prefer focusing on an expertise, rather than playing with the linux kernel or OOO. 4- Bizspark give you professional technical support. We are paying people to answer your questions when you are stuck. 5- some very successful companies are built on Microsoft: MySpace, Loopt, Jajah, ZocDoc, Miyowa, etc..

Hi Julien!

I notice from your blog that you're a Microsoft employee and are part of the BizSpark team so thanks for adding your perspective.

I agree that people can choose both, and PHP on Windows is a great example of where people don't get locked in to Microsoft's products and can easily redeploy on free and open source platforms. I wonder, do you support BizSpark members who are having problems getting PHP, Apache and MySQL running on Windows Server 2008?

In terms of visibility, I read on your blog that BizSpark allows members to have their company profile listed on the Microsoft Startup Zone site to allow potential partners and investors to find you. I'd be interested to find out how effective this is.

As for support, I've never had any problems getting community support for any of the open source products I've used. I find the community is always very eager to help both professionals like me and beginners alike. I can't comment on the quality of Microsoft's support though, never havig used it; even during my time as a Microsoft system administrator I found the community support options more than adequate and professional.

I would like to take exception to your comment in point 3. Are you implying that the Linux kernel is just a toy? That people who use and Linux do not focus, or are unable to focus on expertise? Would you consider Singapore's Ministry of Defence, the French Tax Agency, the Belgian Federal Public Justice Service, Banco do Brasil, Bangkok Airways, Peugeot Citroën and many more to prefer to focus on "playing with" open source than expertise?

You finish off by giving a list of successful companies that are built on Microsoft. I don't see the relevance. I'm not suggesting you cannot be successful if you use Microsoft technologies. Being successful does not imply being locked in to a particular vendor, and vice versa. successful and being locked in to a particular vendor are mutually exclusive. As you know, there is also a large list of successful companies that do not use Microsoft, there are also unsuccessful companies that use Microsoft and unsuccessful ones that don't.

I look forward to your response!


"no upfront costs" != "free"

In fact, having it stated explicitly like this implies to me there are in fact costs, ie: at some stage we will start charging you, we just won't tell you up front how much or how often. Nice.

Because the vast majority of people (I'd say 85%+) in that SME target market have very low tech knowledge, and simply want the MS offering as it serves their needs without having to understand how or why it works.

Microsoft (clearly) know this and exploit it to generate revenue.

Hey Stuart - welcome to my blog, and sorry for the delayed response...

I understand your point, and the fact the Microsoft exploits this, but it doesn't make it right. My hope in writing this article was to educate would be users of this service that this might not be the right solution for them; giving them another perspective.

The beauty of open source tools is that anyone can provide a service around them. The most common method of monetising open source is through value added services. There are many companies that will provide the IT support for a business using open source software.

Companies that opt to go with BizSpark and stick with Microsoft products after three years will not only have to pay the IT support fees, they'll also be hit up for product license fees.

The only benefit of BizSpark, as far as I can deduce, is the free support. This, in my opinion, does not outweigh the cost in terms of vendor lock-in.

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