Some debates in Taiwan about the MSN I'M initiative for charities lead me to this: "msn i'm - all about charity?" and the wikipedia entry.

Honestly the first thing I think of is some genius marketing plot with hidden agenda behind the benevolent appearance. Now, I hear some people say, "Please, can't you anti-MS guys just give us a break? If you don't feel like giving applauses when Microsoft does something good, can't you just stay quiet and let the rest of us make the world a better place?"

Indeed we can't stay quiet exactly because we want to make the world a better place. We don't want to discredit the good part of this initiative. I believe Microsoft will indeed make the claimed amount of donations, which deserves applauses, etc. But that's not the focus of our discussions. That's something everybody knows. We want to expose the hidden and dangerous side effects that may hurt the society more than the good part may help improve it.

If nothing else, it helps encouraging people to upgrade to newer versions of MSN 8.1 and make it more difficult for other vendors' products to talk to the MSN messenger. Helping create monopoly is not a good thing to do by itself. It's even worse when the monopoly blocks competitors unfairly by constantly changing the protocol, or in plain words, changing the language it speaks, without publishing the details. It's definitely not a technical requirement for the company to do so. When your friends upgrade to newer cell phones, are you forced to upgrade as well in order to speak with her? Certainly no. Are you allowed to use the ATM card issued by one bank at the ATM machine that belongs to another bank, in a foreign country? Yes, Then why do the world collectively tolerate the incompatibility not only between Microsoft products with those from other vendors, but also between its own newer and older versions, as was the case with the MSN 6.1 upgrade cycle in 2003, or the various upgrade cycles of versions of the Microsoft Word? Quite often, if the hardware supports open interfaces (search for "protocol" or "Jim Dennis"), old hardware can still talk to new hardware. Software is amply more flexible than hardware and is even more obligated to maintain compatibility between old and new versions. By the way this has nothing to do with requiring Microsoft to go open source, or make their software free. This is a much humbler request that they follow open interfaces or publish their own, so that other vendors' software can talk to theirs. Yet from file formats to the MSN protocols, Microsoft constantly refuses to do this.

Unless they are forced to, for example when facing the rising competition from the Open Document Format. In this case they would reluctantly follow suit by submitting their version of "open" interface to the International Standards Organization, while actually distorting the meaning of "open".

Please think about the social consequences of the forced upgrades by this intentional malpractice of software protocol/file format design from a more global point of view, and a longer term perspective. People who receive new file formats and/or messages from newer versions of MSN are forced to "choose" Microsoft products. Even users of older versions of Microsoft products are forced to upgrade. (In Taiwan, it's because of character display problems of the contacts.) Scholars including myself have warned against such unnecessary and forced "upgrades" of file formats, especially for digital archiving purposes.

That was bad enough when it was simply monopoly. But Microsoft has begun to implant spying software into everyone's computer since 2006 (yes, in every Windows user's computer -- not only yours, but also those in the banks where you deposit your money, and in those in the Defense Department of your country) with an already partially-implemented plan to eventually implant controlling software whose behavior is constantly dictated by Microsoft from afar. With a history of intruding consumer privacy and human rights like this, what do we expect Microsoft to do when everyone in the globe is using the newest version of MSN, many of whom are forced into it because of their charitable friends?

You can choose to help charities without inadvertently causing more harms than goods. Please stay away from the I'M initiative. If you still believe that this is just yet another Microsoft bashing after following most of the links, then go ahead and do whatever you think is good for the world. Otherwise please circulate this article or its URL in appropriate circumstances so that people make informed decisions about this I'M initiative. In doing so, especially by bringing this message to the charities and NPO's (and especially those fighting for human rights), you may actually help them in more than one way and in far more important aspects than making pennies of donations through Microsoft.