Novell counters Microsoft’s Linux ‘facts’

Countering the latest salvo of Microsoft Corp.’s Get the Facts campaign against open source software, Novell Inc. Wednesday launched a Web site devoted to “unbending the truth” about Linux in the enterprise.

Novell chief executive officer (CEO) Jack Messman is also in the process of sending an e-mail to Novell customers. In that e-mail, Messman debunked a memo that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent to customers last week. In his e-mail, Ballmer wrote that Windows has economic and security advantages over open source software and warned that Linux users are fair game for intellectual property lawsuits.

Ballmer’s widely publicized e-mail came at the one-year anniversary of Microsoft’s Get the Facts campaign, a marketing effort by the Redmond, Wash., software giant that compares Windows favourably with Linux . In the e-mail, as Microsoft has done throughout the campaign, Ballmer cited passages from studies conducted by industry analyst firms that show Windows to be superior to Linux.

In response, Novell accused Microsoft of cherry picking from the analyst reports.

“Microsoft is being very selective in what they are pulling from these studies,” said Bruce Lowry, a Novell spokesman. “Microsoft is trying to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the market place with incomplete arguments.”

Indeed, contrary to the message Microsoft is trying to get across, the studies don’t chide Linux at all, according to Novell. For example, a Yankee Group report comparing the cost of Windows to Linux also says Linux provides “excellent performance, reliability, ease of use and security,” Novell’s Messman wrote in his e-mail.

However, Yankee Group Senior Analyst Laura DiDio, author of the report, cautioned that Novell may now be quoting selectively from her report to show Linux in a favorable light. You can make a case for either operating system depending on what the individual user’s environment looks like, she said.

“Unless you read the whole report, you can take things out of context. …Novell is trying to use it for their own purposes,” DiDio said.

Novell also took issue with Ballmer’s comments that no vendor today stands behind Linux with full intellectual-property indemnification. “In fact, it is rare for open source software to provide customers with any indemnification at all,” Ballmer wrote. That’s wrong, according to Messman. Novell does offer its customers protection from copyright claims.

“If the world were as Microsoft states, Linux would not be the world’s fastest growing operating system,” Messman wrote.

Novell is not alone in critiquing Microsoft’s campaign and Ballmer’s e-mail in particular. Dion Cornett, an analyst with Decatur Jones Equity Partners LLC, an equity research firm based in Chicago, wrote in a research note on Monday that Ballmer obviously selected portions of the analyst reports to make his case.

“If the ‘independent studies’ are as accurate as Ballmer claims, then AOL (America Online Inc.), Amazon (Inc.), Google (Inc.) and Linksys — all companies that are standardizing on Linux — must be wrong in how they operate their massive IT infrastructures,” Cornett wrote.

Additionally, Cornett believes Microsoft’s campaign may have an adverse effect on the company and little impact on open source vendors such as Red Hat Inc. and Novell. “In fact (the campaign) may have the opposite effect of validating Linux as a viable threat to Microsoft’s business,” he wrote.

Novell entered the Linux business last year with the acquisitions of Ximian Inc. and SuSE Linux AG. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company, for now, is limiting its public response to “Get the Facts” to the Web site and Messman e-mail, Lowry said.

Microsoft officials were not immediately available for comment.

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