Get The Facts

*editorial note: the events described below took place in 2004

So I sat with about 150 other "technical decision makers" in a very
plush hotel in Holborn while representatives from Microsoft tried their
best to convince me that I should not be considering moving to Linux.
To run the discussion Microsoft had employed a fake-tan horror who had
clearly escaped from daytime TV. He was by turns chummy and
condescending. However being a reasonable man I will not hold Microsoft
responsible for his failings.

First up was Phillip Dawson who leads Linux research for
analysts Meta Group. He quoted heavily from a Meta analysis which shows
that Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for linux and windows is comparable.
This study has been widely reported in IT press but I can't for the
life of me find a link to the original. He made some interesting points
about where the datacentre is going to be in a few years. His basic
thrust was that everyone is moving from proprietary Unix with its
expensive platforms to Windows or Linux on x86 platforms and that it
this hardware move, rather than linux versus windows, that will drive
all the cost savings. Dawson believes that in a few years the only
place we will see proprietary Unix is in very large enterprise

After a promising start, Dawson then got into the territory of
why Windows makes more sense for enterprises than Linux. He introduced
what was to become a running theme for seminar, Linux is not free. It
turns out that the TCO statements made earlier were based on the
licensing costs of SuSE professional and Red Hat Enterprise versus
Windows. They had refused to consider that people might run a business
on something that they could download free from the Internet. Later in
the Q and A session Dawson got quite aggravated when people pointed out
to him that many Linux-based businesses run quite happily on free linux
(this was shouted by the scruffy-looking Debian hackers in the back). I
can only assume that businesses that are brave enough to save thousands
of pounds per unit by moving away from expensive hardware platforms are
meant not to care that they can save another couple of hundred pounds
on Microsoft licence fees. Later in the presentation he said "Don't
compare to the free downloads. They are not free". Precisely what he
meant by this escapes me.

One area the Meta study didn't look at was Linux on the
desktop. Phil claimed that linux was not ready for the desktop because
it lacked administrative tools. He was carrying on in a similar vein
when he said "Management tools on Linux are nearly as good as a DOS

Nick Barley, business and Marketing Director for Microsoft UK took to
the stage to baffle us with market-speak. There was lots of talk about
strategy and leveraging which I didn't follow. He talked a bit about
Microsoft's shared-source program and tried his hardest to make it
sound like open-source, mainly by refusing to say Open-source and
talking about shared-source instead. Continuing in Phillip Dawson's
footsteps he repeated the mantra "Linux is not free" several times.
Although he was at his best when talking about business models amongst
Linux distributors claiming that "Linux is moving to the same model
that Microsoft has been using".

My absolute favourite part of the talk was when Barley started to extol
the virtues of Windows because everything in it was made by one
manufacturer. A fair point which would have been well taken had he not
gone on to draw an idiotic analogy. He asked us to imagine an aeroplane
where different components were made by different companies. Apparently
he's never heard of Airbus.

Next up was Nick McGrath head of platform strategy for
Microsoft UK. The main bulk of his talk was taken up by a demonstration
of a document sharing system based on Microsoft Sharepoint. Very boring
for those of us running heterogeneous systems that Sharepoint will not
run on. McGrath was much more technically clued up than Barley, and
seemed to be aware that the audience was not entirely on his side. He
made mention of the Forrester report
that claimed more vulnerabilities in Linux than Windows. I saw this
thoroughly debunked by RedHat's Marc Cox when he was speaking as part
of RedHat's World Tour so I will not go into further detail.

After a break for coffee Microsoft rolled out some satisfied
customers for us starting with Basil Shall of Grosvenor Group. For
those of you not familiar with Grosvenor they are a financial group who
use their massive London property holdings to make more money in the
markets. The most interesting thing that Basil said was that he had had
to write a letter to the head of Microsoft UK before he got decent
service. Things got progressively less interesting as the morning wore
on. Paul Hartigan of PharmiWeb told us how great .Net is. Anthony
Leaper of Seibel told us how great siebel is and how it runs just fine
on windows. Colin Bradford of Computacenter didn't really tell us
anything about Microsoft but did do an effective job of plugging
Computacenter's new testing facility where you can get suppliers to
show you real working systems of their latest and greatest

The final part of the show was a Q and A session with the two
Nicks, Philip Dawson and Colin Bradford chaired by the aforemention
daytime TV horror-show. Eddie Bleasdale of Netproject
asked the most insightful question. He talked about a customer of his
who had lost data because it was in old Microsoft file formats that
couldn't be read by current Microsoft products. This was slickly dealt
with by McGrath who suggested that he should get the Microsoft people
to talk to him after the show. Barley added that all the current
Microsoft Office file formats including their XML schema are published
openly. I'm not entirely convinced of that but I don't know enough
about XML to make any definitive statements.

The overall tone of this event makes it fairly clear as to Microsoft's anti-Linux strategy.

  1. Claim that linux isn't free.
  2. Pretend that Shared source is the same as Open Source
  3. Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux
  4. Use the forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure
  5. Belittle the quality of the toolset available on Linux