Tale of an IT hero

When Dale Frantz says that his massive migration from Microsoft Windows to the Apple platform isn’t a vengeance case, believe him. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with Frantz closely enough to know not only that the CIO of Auto Warehousing Co. doesn’t have a vengeful bone in his body, but also that he means what he says.

As Julia King reports in this week’s cover story, the migration is being made because Frantz determined that by doing so, he can cut costs, improve system reliability and security, and provide expanded IT support services to his users. The decision to extricate himself from his total dependence on Microsoft was based on sound business and technology principles, not some mindless lust for retaliation.

On the other hand, don’t believe for a nanosecond Microsoft’s extremely poor judgment in selecting AWC as a target in a software-licensing intimidation campaign, and Frantz’s earnestness to demonstrate that Apple is a viable alternative to Microsoft in large companies, are unrelated. They are, in fact, inextricably linked.

Our involvement with this story began on May 2, 2006, when Frantz, a Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader, e-mailed me to make me aware of an issue that had been brewing at AWC. He informed me that his company had been contacted by a Microsoft software asset management “engagement manager” who indicated that Microsoft had reason to believe AWC wasn’t fully compliant with its software licenses. The manager suggested that the only way for Frantz to rectify the situation was to cooperate with a Microsoft-sponsored inventory of his installed software.

Over the next several weeks, we reported extensively on the AWC case, documenting Frantz’s certainty that he was in fact properly licensed, as well as his refusal to be intimidated by a tactic that had the unmistakable smell of a dissembled Microsoft software asset management sales initiative. Nowhere was Frantz’s resultant disenchantment with Microsoft better illustrated than in this response to the engagement manager:

“The thing that is really sad about this whole affair is that Auto Warehousing Company is virtually a dedicated Microsoft shop, due to my (prior) professional respect for your company. As I have spoken at global conferences and been quoted many times in the IT trade press, I have reinforced that AWC is a Microsoft shop and that we are proud of that fact. It is extremely unfortunate that it is now clear that your many detractors are actually the ones that are correct.”

When Frantz refused to buckle, Microsoft backed off. But the genie was out of the bottle. Frantz and Computerworld were inundated with e-mails from readers who had been subjected to similar Microsoft strong-arm tactics but who never went public with their experiences. Most praised Frantz for having the guts to do so. Others wrote to say that if Microsoft ever tried such a gimmick with them, they’d immediately start shifting to an Apple or Linux alternative.

Of course, it’s easy for all of us to say what we would do in a situation that requires immense courage and conviction. We like to think we know what we’d do. But the truth is, until we’re actually staring the situation in the face, none of us really knows.

More to the point, it’s easy to threaten a massive adoption of Apple systems as an alternative to Microsoft. But how many CIOs are willing to stake their reputations on an expansive proof-of-concept project to establish whether such a dramatic shift in a large organization is truly viable? There may be a handful out there, but I only know of one. And I’m proud to know him. If you knew Dale Frantz, you would be, too.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

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