Microsoft Moves to Stave Off Linux

Since the Linux open-source operating system first attracted the attention of the IT industry in 1997, Microsoft Corp. has employed several approaches to deal with its increasing popularity.

Most recently, Microsoft took the wraps off of a new Web site in which it attempts to "clear the air" on the subject of alleged "Linux myths." Previous strategies included ignoring Linux, but that didn’t work, then plotting ways to thwart the acceptance of Linux and open source software development in general – as outlined in the "Halloween Memo" of late 1998.

Microsoft’s Linux Myths site, located at www.microsoft.com/ntserver/nts/news/msnw/LinuxMyths.asp, advances a number of arguments against Linux and against open source software development. Among other things, the site claims that Linux’s security model is weak, that Linux’s free price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to lower total cost of ownership, and that open source software’s collaborative development process makes it difficult for organizations to plan long-term IT strategies.

Microsoft bolstered the Linux Myths site with links to three recent online reports prepared by the analyst firm GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com). Accordingly, the group’s forecasters projected that although Linux will enjoy success in file-and-print, embedded, server appliance, and some Internet market segments, the open source operating system will not gain broad acceptance as a substitute for traditional Unix-based operating systems or for Windows NT in the near future.

Moreover, GartnerGroup questioned the juggernaut-like aura that surrounds the Linux operating system. In a report titled "Red Hat’s Future: Boxed In," the firm’s analysts charge that many Linux enthusiasts "are being egged on by a fanatical part of the open-source community that hates Microsoft. This fervor, however, does not extend to corporate IS organizations." (www.gartner.com/webletter/microsoft/article6/article6.html).

Microsoft’s latest actions are deemed by many in both the Linux and analyst communities as another example of the fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD) tactics that the software giant has used against Linux and other open source software in the past. Critics of the GartnerGroup report from the Linux community question the validity of the report because Microsoft is one of GartnerGroup’s biggest clients. This criticism, however, fails to account for a recent flap between GartnerGroup and Microsoft over the industry watcher’s cost projection of surprisingly high TCO numbers for Windows 2000 Professional. This is not something a compromised organization would do.

One analyst suggests that Microsoft still hasn’t determined how to combat the challenge posed by the distributed nature of the Linux community itself.

"Microsoft really hasn't figured out how to fight back," says Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating system environments at International Data Corp. (IDC, www.idc.com). "After all, it is fighting a community rather than a single company. Microsoft knows how to compete with another company. Fighting with a [diverse] community is another matter."

In addition to employing more FUD tactics, Kusnetzky expects Microsoft to attempt to downplay the growth of the Linux operating system and produce a series of white papers that demonstrate its successful strategy vis-à-vis the "questionable" positioning of both Linux and open source.

"Microsoft knows that it is in a box of its own construction," Kusnetzky says. "It cannot lower the price of its products to match the competition because it's built its business on version upgrade revenue. It can't give away its most profitable software [because] its stockholders want to see an ever increasing revenue stream and an increasing stock value."