Monday, June 21, 2004

M$: Get The Facts

Get The Facts

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 databases.

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 prompt".

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 technologies.

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


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