Some of Microsoft's biggest direct rivals – notably Facebook, Google, and Amazon – have faced regular scrutiny and punishments from regulators. For the most part, Microsoft has avoided similar antitrust charges. However, that may be changing as Microsoft Cloud customers are increasingly voicing their concerns.
Specifically, Microsoft Cloud customers are unhappy with a 2019 contract update that changes how licenses are managed. At the time, Microsoft completely revamped its licensing model for both Windows and Office products.
While the main reason was to increase prices, there were also some bizarre licensing and interoperability changes made. Since then, it seems some of the changes include offering discrete discounts to existing Azure customers while charging the full amount to non-Microsoft Cloud customers.
In other words, instead of raising prices for all customers, Microsoft seems to be punishing those who use other cloud platforms. It has taken a couple of years but customers are now figuring out Microsoft's plan.
Bloomberg reports on what some of those Windows/Office customers think of the situation:
“The excrement is about to hit the fan,” says Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that advises customers on Microsoft licensing. Running Windows or Office on another cloud service is “significantly more expensive than it used to be, and more expensive than it costs you to do the same thing on Azure.”
Let's be clear, simply having anecdotal suspicions is not enough to get the regulatory gears moving. While this along would probably not mean an FTC antitrust charge, Microsoft's history of “tying” customers to its products may play a role.
Microsoft President, Vice Chair, and chief lawyer Brad Smith released the following small statement on the matter:
“There definitely are some valid concerns, it's very important for us to learn more and then make some changes.”
This almost seems like an admission, so it will be interesting to see how this story plays out in the coming weeks and months.
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