This column is about TANSTAAFL, which is a term from a book by Robert A. Heinlein (one of best Science Fiction authors that ever lived) called "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress". The term means "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch". This concept is basis of plot of book, which is about a Lunar penal colony and it's attempt to free itself from Earth domination.
Recently Microsoft instituted a new policy regarding their Hotmail service which annoyed a large number of customers. Like most free email services, Hotmail has been struggling with recent failure of advertising model. (Advertisers pay for services to show ads to people, who get services for no cost). This failure means fewer advertisers are willing to pay, and those that do pay demand lower costs and higher returns.
Hotmail has taken same tack as many other previously free services - they are attempting to remain free, but reduce benefits of free accounts in order to entice people to spend money for paid accounts.
Their new policy was simple and seemed straightforward to them. They simply decided to delete all emails in SENT items folder that were older than thirty days. This seemed like a perfectly valid decision to them, so reasonable that they only sent one notice to their users.
Well, it was not reasonable at all.
I've run into similar boneheaded thinking before, of course. I manage production computer department of a multi-billion dollar company. Our job is to ensure that all of user workstations and applications servers are up, running and doing useful things 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
One day one of my people (who should have known better) decided he needed to work on workstation of CFO (Chief Financial Officer). Disk space was low, so he emptied trash can. Seems perfectly reasonable, doesn't it?
Well, as it turned out, CFO was using trash can to store documents. She never emptied it, and thought it was just another folder. So she stored hundreds of sub-folders and thousands of vital company documents there. She thought of it as a place to put documents that she no longer needed.
Now, just about any other user would have been told that this was not proper and that would have been end of it. However, this was CFO, a vice president in a multi-billion dollar company. We had to scramble to recover documents, and only managed because I had made a backup of her system, including recycle bin.
The Hotmail action was discussed on several forums recently. Below are some of conclusions and my answers. You may find this interesting.
Why would Microsoft do such a terrible thing? - The point is Microsoft (and Yahoo and others as well) are trying to give an incentive for people to pay for their service. Thus, slowly removing features from free service is chosen way to do that.
Microsoft is evil! No other companies are doing this - Virtually all of "free" email providers, web hosting companies and others are doing much same thing. Most are far more brutal than Microsoft was in this case. Many free hosts simply deleted tens of thousands of web sites with very little notice ...
You cannot hang it on Microsoft. They sent an email and those who did not read it or ignored it deserve what they got - I can hang it on Microsoft. One email is not enough. The post office is required to go through agonizing public hearings to make changes, why shouldn't email providers be required to do same (regardless of their one-sided terms of service agreements that very people people would understand even if they took time to read them).
Microsoft should not have done this. After all, MSN is subsidized by Windows XP, which costs an incredible amount of money - Windows XP and MSN are two separate divisions in Microsoft and have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Windows XP sales in no way go towards supporting MSN or vice versa.
Why would you trust a free service with your vital email? It's free, so you get what you pay for - We trust 3rd parties all of time. We trust post office to deliver our mail, water company to give us water, and MacDonald's to not poison us with their food. Why shouldn't we trust our email provider? If we find we cannot, it's time to find another one.