Microsoft sticks to the facts on Linux

Having called Linux and open-source software a "cancer", "un-American" and "bankrupt", Microsoft will now stick to facts instead...

Having called Linux and open-source software a "cancer", "un-American" and "bankrupt", Microsoft will now stick to facts instead of emotions, the company's competitive strategist said yesterday.

"There were some emotional statements made before; we're now on a direction to talk about the facts," said Martin Taylor, who as the company's general manager of platform strategy drives Microsoft's thinking when it comes to Linux and other open-source products. Taylor was appointed to the job two weeks ago.

It took a few years, but Microsoft now appears to have changed its tactics in its battle with Linux. "We kind of defaulted [to emotion] because we could not think about Linux in the right way," Taylor admitted

At a large Microsoft meeting in New Orleans a few weeks ago, Taylor and Kevin Johnson, who heads up worldwide sales and marketing at Microsoft, told the company's sales force that Microsoft wanted to have "fact-based conversations, not emotional conversations" about Linux and open source.

Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who two years ago likened Linux to a cancer, gave a textbook example of the fact-based tactic last week at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting. Using numbers from various research companies, Ballmer said Windows costs less, runs faster and is more secure than Linux.

However, at the same event, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates seemed to swerve off the factual course as the a question and answer session heated up a bit. "The open-source licence is not open, because you can't take it and ever use it in a job-creating activity," he said.

Taylor's predecessor, Peter Houston, laid much of the groundwork for the move from emotion and "religion" to facts in Microsoft's competitive strategy, said Al Gillen, research director at analyst company IDC.

"Microsoft went to that transition six to eight months ago. However, it is probably the first time that they have messaged this on a broad scale to the salespeople," Gillen said.

"It is better for Microsoft to approach open source as a competitive threat and not trying to discount and undermine it. Whenever you hear those comments, it causes a lot of commotion and excitement, but it does not do anything positive for Microsoft."

Open-source advocates were unimpressed by Microsoft's new focus.

"It would be a more interesting statement if they hadn't started from such a low point," said Open Source Initiative President Eric Raymond. "They can talk about being more factual, but they've got a long way to go.

"A lot of people [Microsoft] talked to were interpreting 'Linux as cancer' [remark] as self-serving FUD , and the only thing it was doing was making Linux look good," he said.

Microsoft will be exhibiting at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo that starts on Monday (4 August) in San Francisco. It will be the third time the company has exhibited at a LinuxWorld event.

Joris Evers and Robert McMillan write for IDG News Service  

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