Facts behind Microsoft's anti-Linux campaign
Posted: 01-20-2009, 09:16 PM
Back in 2002, Jim Allchin was co-president of Microsoft's Platforms and
Services Division and was, in his own words, "scared" of the momentum
behind Linux, as noted in an email [PDF] sent to several of his direct
Why scared? Because Windows was starting to lose to Linux:
My conclusion: We are not on a path to win against Linux. We must
change some things and we must do it immediately. The current white
papers, etc. are too high level and they are not going to cut it.
So what did Allchin do? As court documents in the Comes vs. Microsoft
antitrust suit demonstrate, and as Roy Schestowitz pointed out on his
blog Sunday, Allchin started to buy facts. Lots of facts.
What facts? "Facts" about Windows alleged superiority as a preemptive
kernel and asychronous I/O, facts that demonstrate that "Linux is old
unix." Facts about Windows alleged security superiority over Linux.
Facts that go to the heart of Red Hat and IBM's patent indemnification
offerings and, frighteningly, Allchin seems to be foretelling
Microsoft's later patent FUD against Linux:
We need to understand exactly the risk a customer is under if a
patent lawsuit happens and Linux is challenged....There MUST be risks to
customers that are being passed on. I want this understood precisely. We
need to get the license from IBM given to customers and investigate.
To his credit, Allchin's e-mail constantly re-emphasizes that he's
looking for facts, not tabloid marketing against Linux:
Bill [Veghte]/Brian [Valentine]: I need to ask you to take
ownership of driving this ahead What I want to see is a package
including ALL of these items that we can provide to the field within 2
months (MAX). I am scared....Please remember NO marketing. Facts. No
anger toward Linux. Just facts.
But I have to wonder if in amid so much "fact" creation, the truth
sometimes got lost.
As reported in 2003 by The Register, among others, Microsoft's incessant
drumbeat on "the facts" against Linux displayed a curious infatuation
with Linux. If Microsoft truly were better, why spend so much ink (and
cash) on building a case against it, at least, one based on "facts"? It
seemed a perfect Hamlet moment, wherein Queen Gertrude pithily dismisses
a character's comments with "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."
The Register wrote in 2003 of Microsoft's fact-buying campaign:
The study is apparently to be used by Microsoft's new kinder,
gentler and more fact-based GM for platform strategy Martin Taylor in
his campaign to convince customers that nine out of ten cats who
expressed a preference reckoned that Linux is pooh. And in this
campaign, he has the best facts money can buy.
Did Microsoft cross the line with its "Get the Facts" campaign? Almost
certainly. Even so, I'm impressed by Allchin's desire to avoid marketing
and stick to facts. The problem is that it's hard to hold to facts when
only one side is presenting (and buying) them.
Microsoft eventually disbanded its much-maligned Get the Facts campaign.
The former "Get the Facts" Web site is now a much happier place that
invites customers to "compare" Linux and Windows, but is much softer in
Have the facts changed? No. But Microsoft finally came to the
realization that its customers weren't stupid and could separate fact
from fiction. Sometimes Windows is cheaper. Sometimes it's more secure,
is a better technical fit for an organization, etc. But those aren't The
Facts. They're site-by-site facts for specific customers, and arguably
don't reflect the broader reality, one that has seen rampant, massive
uptake of Linux over the past six years since Allchin ordered a
directive to find and market "the facts."