Microsoft takes ‘just the facts’ approach to rival Linux

The ongoing IT platform debate boils down to a strict total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison, according to one Microsoft Corp. exec.

As general manager of platform strategies for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, Martin Taylor is the man in charge of crafting a “just the facts” strategy to counter the rising prominence of rival operating system Linux.

He was in Toronto last month to talk about Microsoft’s stance on the open-source technology. Linux has become more mainstream, Martin Taylor said. To that end, the company has taken a company wide strategy to its proprietary technology.

Microsoft in the past has made few concessions to the open-source format, specifically in its shared code initiative which gives its partners access to some Windows code. Linux is “not bad, but different,” Martin Taylor said.

But rather than engage in marketing hype, Microsoft has taken a “fact-based” approach to Linux, according to Martin Taylor. The company has recently launched the “Get the Facts” ad campaign geared towards IT decision makers; the six-month initiative is employs Microsoft sponsored industry reports, case studies and specific feature set checklists against Linux.

The campaign began with a two-page advertisement, which was featured in six computer industry trade publications early January, that cites a 2002 IDC study that found that Windows 2000 costs organizations less to operate for a variety of server tasks including networking, security, and file and print serving. “Reams have been written about Windows and Linux,” the ad reads, “Let’s skip to the bottom line.”

Critics charge that the campaign is perhaps a bit too one-sided with the reports being commissioned and sponsored by Microsoft. But Microsoft asserts that the evidence has been “validated” by third parties.

The prospects of Microsoft ever adopting the Linux technology is unlikely, Martin Taylor noted. Microsoft has high hopes for Longhorn, the awaited next version of its Windows operating system, he added. It’s not a case of touting one system over the other, Martin Taylor noted, adding that for the average CIO, the case for choosing either system comes down to cost, reliability and security.

When comparing the two, Martin Taylor noted it’s important that organizations recognize the different flavours of Linux: the open-source (Samba, Apache) free Linux stack, and the enterprise Linux stack (such as IBM Corp’s WebSphere) which run on top of this kernel. Keeping this in mind, in most instances the Microsoft .NET environment delivers lower development and support costs than Linux, Martin Taylor claimed.

In Canada a similar “Get the Facts” (about Linux and Open Source) campaign was launched the first week of February, said Alec Taylor senior manager, platform strategy from Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co. There are both French and English versions of the Web site, Alec Taylor added.

Canadian organizations are very TCO-centric, Alec Taylor said, adding that as enterprise looking to migrate from Unix or Windows NT, running business applications securely and cost-effectively is the bottom line.

One such Microsoft customer is the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) based in Mississauga, Ont. The organization looked at both Windows and Linux and ultimately decided on thin clients running the Windows CE OS.

According to DPCDSB CIO John Steele, the school board, with 113 elementary schools and 21 secondary schools, 88,000 and 8,000 employees, hadn’t undertaken any significant IT upgrades in 10 years.

The organization runs in mixed mode of a 65 per cent thin client and 35 per cent traditional desktops. In 2001, the DPCDSB decided to expand its use of Citrix technology via Linux-based thin clients and Windows Server 2000.

After amalgamating its corporate and instructional technologies services in June 2002, the costs to support the aging IT environment, software and legacy systems were rising and the board needed to upgrade to a server-based computing model, Steele said.

Despite the touted benefits of the open-source technology, the Linux-based terminals were causing reliability, configuration and performance issues that couldn’t be replicated, Steele noted. “It just kind of worked out that the version of Linux that we were provided with…just caused so much havoc that it was an easy decision.”

But it wasn’t an issue of preferring one operating system over the other, Steele noted, rather it was that remaining a Windows shop suited the school boards’ needs. While he would look at Linux again, touting the OS’s apparent reliability on the network side, he noted that “there doesn’t seem to be any long term direction that the providers of Linux are adhering to.”

Ultimately, the onus is on IT professionals to decide which operating system is suitable for their needs. The evidence is out there; Microsoft implores organizations to do the research and come to a conclusion, Martin Taylor said.