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Microsoft and the Incredible 'Internet Usage Tax'

Microsoft and the Incredible 'Internet Usage Tax'

A Microsoft executive casually dropped the idea of improving Internet security by levying a tax on users in a speech at RSA 2010 last week, and a lot of blood is still boiling. "Microsoft suggesting that some tax be instituted to fund fixing malware problems would be like Toyota suggesting an additional gasoline tax to fund their recent recalls," said Slashdot blogger yagu.

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
03/08/10 5:00 AM PT

It's not often that Linux Girl is struck speechless by some tidbit of news in the tech world, but every once in a while it happens.

Last week, it happened.

Amid all the high-level discussion of Internet security at the RSA Conference 2010 in San Francisco, Microsoft's Scott Charney -- who holds the ironic title of "corporate vice president for trustworthy computing" -- actually suggested a government tax to help the company improve Windows security.

"An Internet usage tax might be the way to go," Charney said -- apparently with a straight face, according to a Computerworld report. "You could say it's a public safety issue and do it with general taxation."

'Let Them Clean Their Own Fscking Mess'

It took a little while for Linux Girl to regain consciousness after that, and she's still carrying smelling salts, just in case.

A tax to help Microsoft fix what's wrong with its products? Are there even words to describe such an idea?

Bloggers seemed to have no trouble finding them.

"Wow," wrote handydan918 in the Computerworld comments, for example. "So M/S wants to go on the government dole and compel ME to pay for THEIR incompetence? Pass. No other platform is as vulnerable as Windows. Let them clean their own fscking mess...."

'Linux Users Should Get a Tax Break'

Similarly: "How about an excise tax on Microsoft operating systems and/or computer hardware that has a Microsoft operating system preinstalled -- say 250%?" suggested AC on OStatic. "This should solve a substantial number of problems."

And of course: "If there is a Malware tax, then the Linux and Unix users should get a tax break," another anonymous commenter quickly noted.

Expressions of like-minded sentiments could be heard echoing throughout the blogosphere in recent days

Hoping to revive her spirits with some much-needed spirits, Linux Girl headed over to the "Free As Inn" Bar for a little reality check.

'An Issue of Product Failure'

"Science fiction authors couldn't dream that up," Slashdot blogger Eldavojohn opined.

"Microsoft's suggestion is a cute way to shift the blame entirely off of themselves onto the user, when in fact this isn't just an issue of user stupidity but more so product failure," he told LinuxInsider.

"I find it amusing that the spokesman skirted the obvious fact that Macs and Linux are more secure than Windows," Eldavojohn added. "Should we do the same honors for Linux and implement a 'UI Tax' to every computer user so that Linux can be more usable? No. Should we implement a 'game port tax' or 'driver tax' so that OS X becomes more supported? Laughable."

'At Least Toyota Steps Up'

Indeed, "Microsoft suggesting that some tax be instituted to fund fixing malware problems would be like Toyota suggesting an additional gasoline tax to fund their recent recalls," Slashdot blogger yagu opined. "At least Toyota steps up to clean up the mess they create."

Similarly: "Imagine buying a car for (US)$25,000 that needed a mechanic on-hand to keep it running," blogger Robert Pogson began. "That's what you get with that other OS -- an expensive lemon."

Microsoft "will do anything to increase their revenue," Pogson added. "They tax hardware, they tax manufacturers, customers, and now they want to tax the Internet. All these taxes serve to inflate the price of IT and make their obscene profits seem relatively small."

'Grossly Inadequate Design'

In fact, "the malware is caused by M$'s grossly inadequate design and serves to slow down PCs with use so that more licenses are bought for newer PCs," he concluded. "Selling insurance against malware -- or taxing the Internet -- is just another scheme to make them seem more helpful while they stab customers in the back."

If Microsoft really cared about the security of the Internet, "they would lower the cost of Windows 7 so people would be more likely to upgrade off XP," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, on the other hand, laid the blame primarily at OEMs' door.

"The 'MSFT Tax' is so wrong I don't know even where to start," hairyfeet exclaimed. "The main problem is they are taxing the wrong people, because it is NOT -- I repeat NOT -- the users' fault!

"If you bought a brand new car, would you expect to have to become a mechanic or take it to one because the locks had been disabled and the brakes rigged at the factory?" hairyfeet added. "That is exactly what every major OEM does in search of higher profits!"

'Crippled' by OEMs

OEMs routinely "cripple the machines before the customer even opens the box," hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

Specifically, "they activate the account using an easy-to-guess name password like 'HP_User' or no password, instead of letting the customer choose; they then proceed to disable ALL Windows updates, so the machine is not only horribly out of date and thus vulnerable, but will never get the updates required to be safe," he explained.

Finally, "they install a lame piece of crapware AV that is also out of date and only gives the user 30 days of protection at best," he added. "Usually they are so out of date all they provide is a false sense of security."

With automatic updates, a full antivirus suite and the FileHippo update checker, on the other hand, "I have users going on a decade now with NO infections," hairyfeet said.

'Microsoft's Sole Responsibility'

"Windows fixes are Microsoft's sole responsibility, both legally and ethically," said Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

If Microsoft can't handle the job, there are other solutions, she suggested:

1. "Open-source Windows and let more competent programmers fix it."
2. "Switch to either linux or bsd as the underlying OS."
3. "Drop all backward compatibility."
4. "Offer subsidies to people who switch to other operating systems. After all, there are so many Microsoft fanbois who claim that it's because of Microsoft's market share -- this would fix it! :-)"
5. "Split the company into three or more companies, each of which can concentrate on their core product without compromising to accommodate the others."

'They Stayed Bloated'

That last point, in fact, "is something I was afraid would happen during the DoJ vs. Microsoft case," Hudson admitted. "Fortunately, they stayed bloated."

Last but not least came Linux Girl's favorite suggestion: "If Microsoft were REALLY smart, they'd put together a group of coders who absolutely HATE Windows, and fund them to write a better, but still compatible, OS," Hudson explained. "OS2 showed it could be done, despite everything Microsoft did during development to actively hinder it."

How about it, Redmond? Since you're so concerned about security, and all... isn't it the least you could do? :-)


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