Microsoft could find itself left out in the cold as frustration with the company and its practises leads users to turn to alternative operating systems.

"Corporate user resentment and dissatisfaction with Microsoft and some of its practices is at an all-time high," says Laura DiDio, senior analyst with the Yankee Group. DiDio is the author of a US survey that found many current Windows users are considering swapping to Linux-based operating systems as well as Apple's OS X.

The survey asked 1,500 companies how satisfied they were with Microsoft and found many weren't happy.

At the heart of people's dissatisfaction is Microsoft's new Licensing 6.0 program. The policy was launched on 1 August after months of confusion and delays. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they were "outraged" by Microsoft's new licensing scheme and were actively seeking alternative products.

In the UK the Treasury
has already announced it will be looking at open source alternatives to Microsoft software because sticking with Windows is becoming increasingly expensive.

Licence to print money
Microsoft's volume-licensing program, Software Assurance, is largely to blame for these price hikes. It asks corporate buyers to pay more for new products as well as for maintenance and upgrade services. And those who don't stay current with updates will pay more down the line. At a time when corporate budgets are tight, such tactics are not going down well, says DiDio.

Corporate customers understand Microsoft is facing declining revenues as companies slow down their PC upgrade cycles. But many feel it has drastically overstepped its bounds, she says.

One survey respondent made this point more forcefully: "For heaven's sake, they have $36 billion in the bank and they are trying to squeeze us."

What's notable is that customer frustration hasn't cooled over time. A similar study conducted in October last year showed people were already fuming. That frustration clearly hasn't waned — although as yet it has not translated into a serious decline in the number of Windows users.

Microsoft moans
Microsoft's new licensing scheme draws the most ire, but other factors for contemplating Windows alternatives were cited, too. Many point to the company's numerous delays of business-class products designed to work with Windows XP. Others profess confusion over the company's .Net strategy of web services and applications. Still more dislike Microsoft's perceived monopolistic practices and ongoing legal issues.

Finally, Microsoft's ongoing security issues are a factor for many users. Despite Microsoft's assurances that it is working to improve security in its products, few customers feel reassured. "It seems not a day goes by that you don't hear about some security flaw," DiDio says.

Despite these issues, the analyst doesn't expect an immediate, major shift in the OS market. Windows owns about 90 percent of the desktop market, with the various Linux distributions and Apple splitting the final 10 percent.

"Windows is the dominant OS and that's not going to change any time soon," DiDio says. "There is no mass defection; no march on Redmond." But she says Linux and Apple fans — small but enthusiastic groups — should feel optimistic. "Basically it was clear — there are changes in the wind."