Update: I received a bunch of notes from people over the weekend about my Windows 2000 Corporate Preview Program (CPP) exclusive, most of them positive. However, a few people were nice enough to remind me that the actions of a few CPP members shouldn't throw a shadow over the whole group. That's a good point: The vast majority of CPP customers do not even participate in the CPP newsgroups and, of those that do participate, most do not have the questionable goals of those I portrayed in the article. My apologies if I offended anyone on the CPP program.

On the other hand, threats were indeed used by some customers to coerce Microsoft into giving away release candidates and the company is indeed considering whether to provide free copies of the final release of Windows 2000 to these people for the reasons stated in the article. So while these people are, of course, a small minority, they are an effective and vocal minority that has caused Microsoft to bend over backwards appeasing them.

On to the story...


Microsoft's decision to open up its Windows 2000 beta to corporate customers for $60 has turned into a nightmare for the software giant as users--many of whom have little or nothing to do with any actual corporate roll-out of Windows 2000--have demanded new builds, refunds, and now, a free copy of the final version of Windows 2000. The Windows 2000 Corporate Preview Program (CPP) seems like a good idea on paper: Get the Beta 3 release of Windows 2000 into the hands of corporate decisions makers so they can begin upgrade plans. But the reality of the program is that most people see it as a way to get a copy of Windows 2000 for only $60. If that were the end of it, the cost would be minimal. But if the posts in the CPP newsgroups are any indication, Microsoft will end up losing millions of dollars because of this promotion.

It all began in late June when talk of Windows 2000 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) got the CPP customers fuming that they were stuck with an out-of-date release. I wrote a lengthy article about this, which you can read online.

After threats of legal action, requests for refunds, and other scare tactics on the part of CPP customers, Microsoft caved in and offered them RC1 on CD. For a time, the CPPers quieted down, appeased.

It didn't last. With Windows 2000 RC2 due at the end of August, the chanting for new builds started to build quickly, so Microsoft quickly announced that RC2 would be available on CD--for free--to the CPP customers as well. Clearly, the company was trying to avoid the public relations nightmare that had engulfed the company when RC1 hit the streets.

But it wasn't enough. Now the never-satisfied CPPers want the final version of Windows 2000. And they want it for free.

"After 'living' thru several weeks of beta with \[Windows 2000\], I firmly believe that Microsoft should ship one free copy of the final release product to CPP members," the original request reads. "The CPP group has spent hundreds of hours of personal time each ringing out the bugs for Microsoft and while I agree \[Windows 2000\] is a great product, I feel some 'ownership' in its success. Since many of us will ultimately buy hundreds of copies each for our companies' use, is it too much to ask to get a free personal copy of the final for our efforts?"

While most people would laugh derisively at such a request, it was greeted with a chorus of cheers from fellow CPP customers, who smelled blood after Microsoft's earlier capitulation.

"Microsoft needs to get copies 'out there' into the hands of real users who are adventurous enough to try a new \[operating system\] just before Y2K hits and before any service packs are ready," a follow-up post agrees. "Microsoft would then be able to say that the product is being used and is being well-received by those early adopters. CPP participants sound like they are ready, willing, and able to become the early adopters ESPECIALLY if Microsoft gives a copy to them at no additional cost."

It sounds suspiciously like blackmail, doesn't it?

What's particularly amazing, of course, is that Microsoft already has a group of early adopters, the so-called RDP/JDP (Rapid Deployment Program/Joint Deployment Program), made up of large corporations that have been, in many cases, deploying Windows 2000 in production environments since Beta 3. So the use of CPP members for this goal is unnecessary as these people are already too late for the game. And as for the earlier assertion that CPP members are somehow responsible for finding the bugs in Windows 2000, I know personally that this is not the case. Even the hundreds of thousands of technical beta testers, which have been hammering away at Windows 2000 for two years now (approximately six times as long as the CPP customers), are responsible for catching only 10% of the bugs in Windows 2000: The other 90% are caught by, again, the RDP/JDP members. So the CPP customers have done little for Microsoft other than cost them a lot of money and cause them a lot of grief.

So, it is with some amazement that I must report that Microsoft is actually considering the request. In a letter to CPP customers this week, Nancy Narraway, the Product Manager for the Windows 2000 Corporate Preview Program, told CPP customers that a free version of the final code is a possibility.

"Microsoft has received your request with respect to receiving free RTM code. Please allow us approximately 2 weeks to consider this request, at which time, we will post our response," she writes. "Meanwhile, I am confident that you are availing yourself of the complimentary RC1 and upcoming RC2 refreshes that Microsoft is providing, and I trust that this is helpful in your Windows 2000 evaluation efforts."

So the most powerful software company in the world may very well cave in once again to what is essentially blackmail. At this point, you might as well consider spending $60 on the CPP if you're the betting type: There's a good chance that this pittance may get you the final version of Windows 2000 at a substantial discount. I don't have any insider knowledge that this is definitely going to happen, but if Microsoft closes the CPP within the next two weeks, this is the reason why: They're trying to limit the number of free copies they'll need to give out. So don't say I didn't tip you off.

My personal aside for Microsoft: Don't do it. These people are abusing you and they don't deserve it. They paid for Beta 3, and they've already gotten more than they paid for. You're doing a disservice to the technical beta testers and every single person that buys a legitimate copy of Windows 2000 if you give them theirs for free. You'd also be rewarding very childish and potentially illegal behavior and setting the company up for future risks. It's just not worth it. These people will not advocate Windows 2000; instead, they'll brag about how they coerced you into giving it to them for free.

Needless to say, I'll be following this up in a few weeks when a final decision comes from Microsoft. Let's hope reason wins out over hysteria.

--Pau