Microsoft Wages Media War Against Linux

by Hinesh Jethwani    Jun 27, 2004

Pop quiz: How do you stop David from rising against Goliath? Well going by the Book, simply deny the fact that David can do any harm at all. Microsoft tried that, but it didn’t work. So they decided to take it to the next level: Intimidation wasn’t an option, as Linux vendors are way too confident of their products to be bullied by the ’Redmond Army’.

After years of denial, the software Goliath has finally reconciled to the fact that David is a face to reckon with, and something needs to be done before the situation gains ’biblical’ proportions. The battle lines are drawn, and in this no holds barred match, anything goes. In a move that may have stretched advertising ethics a bit, Microsoft has taken the good ol’ media bashing way to prove its point.

Starting with a release of some anti-Linux case studies, the company has now embarked upon its latest plan of action against Linux–a worldwide “Get Your Facts Right” campaign (PPT - 1.0MB), through which it aims to expose the inherent dangers of going the Open Source way.

Handpicked from its stack of archived case studies are three Indian enterprises, all having one thing in common: They tried Linux, didn’t like it, and moved to Microsoft - i.e. exactly the three musketeers that Microsoft India was looking for to take its anti-Linux campaign forward.

Next step: Microsoft India floods the media with highly noticable ads, warning CIOs to watch their step with Linux, or else repent and learn the hard way.

Advertisement 1: “The support debate”

CIO in question: Hitendra Patil, whom the advertisement claims is operational head of Central Depository Services (India) Ltd. (CDSL).

Quote: “With Linux there was nobody offering us support. If there was a problem we had to do our own R&D to find out what was wrong–this had cost implications for us, as well as for our clients.”

Fact: Hitendra Patil quit CDSL in February this year.

CXOtoday questioned Pramod Deshpande, VP-IT, CDSL, about the quote and his company’s stance on the issue.

Deshpande replied, “The quote attributed to Patil is dated, and it holds true only for MS Exchange Server. Every experience has a time limitation. It is not a universal truth that he has spoken, and it is obviously subject to change. It doesn’t imply that Linux is unusable. We had opted for a Linux Sendmail solution that created support problems as soon as we began to expand our facility. Hence, we decided to switch over to Exchange. Period.”

So does the advertisement prove that CDSL is never going to use Linux again? Deshpande countered, “I am not married to Microsoft. In fact, I am trying to reduce the dependence of our IT infrastructure on Microsoft wherever possible. We have just conducted a test run on a couple of non-critical machines by using OpenOffice, which has so far been successful. The Sendmail experience was just one instance, and if tomorrow good support is available, why shouldn’t I opt for Linux?”

However, the front-end at CDSL consists of applications designed on VB and .NET, and moving the platform to Linux would be akin to sending most critical business functions to the orphanage.

Revealing his candid opinion about Microsoft, Deshpande said, “The Software Assurance program offered by Microsoft is something similar to a ’book yourself in advance’ strategy, which can get taxing in trying times. Changes and newer versions are good, but they may not be relevant to our set-up always. Plus, there is always the issue of keeping at least 25 advance licenses at hand, as you never know when the need for installing additional machines may crop up.”

So what words of wisdom does Deshpande have for CIOs opting for Linux? “As a technology head, I am supposed to run the show smoothly, and vendor management is the key. Tomorrow, if I have a good experience with Linux, I wouldn’t mind campaigning for their ads as well. Why should I displease one and please the other by commenting on such issues?” he reasoned.

Even as this article is lined up for upload, CDSL is in the process of conducting a meeting with Novell India for discussing the possible use of alternate technologies like Linux.

Advertisement 2: “The never ending TCO debate”

CIO in question: Ramesh Sanka, whom the advertisement claims is CIO, Moser Baer India.

Quote: “The cost of maintaining a Linux system is much more than a Windows based system over the long term.”

Fact: Ramesh Sanka quit Moser Baer India last month.

CXOtoday tried to investigate Moser Baer’s stance on Linux. When contacted, Muthu Kumar, GM- IT, Moser Baer, refused to comment on the issue. He countered, “If Ramesh Sanka has made a statement, I wouldn’t like to give my opinion on which platform (Linux or Microsoft) is better. However, there is one thing that I can affirm - we are a 100% Microsoft oriented company.”

Advertisement 3: “The low TCO argument again”

CIO in question: The last man standing, Mani Mulki, the CIO of Godrej Industries.

Quote: “Today with Windows, I pay one-sixth the amount for support than I did when we were using the Linux Sendmail solution.”

CXOtoday questioned Mani Mulki about the quote and his company’s stance on the issue.

Mulki replied, “We are not anti-Linux. I made this quote about 3-4 years back, when we had first experimented with a Linux Sendmail solution on our distributed architecture. There were immediate problems with address book synchronization and complaints from users that mails were not being delivered on time. Moreover, the cost of support was very high, which I think still holds true today.”

Cautioning Linux users, Mulki added, “The cost of purchasing an OS constitutes only 2-3% of our IT budget (a figure that most CIOs would agree with). If any CIO is planning to jump the gun by just looking at Linux’s ’free’ tag, he is extremely foolish. CIOs must realize that the applications are not free, and neither is the consultancy and service involved with supporting the system.”

Commenting on Linux’s so-called Open Source ’edge’, Mulki countered, “Even if tomorrow Microsoft opens up its Windows source code, what purpose does it serve for me? What do I have to do with kernel-level tweaking? We are a manufacturing company and the source code is useless to us. Its only developers and academia who find source code valuable. Regarding the future of Linux at Godrej, it is safe to say that currently we are not considering it at all.”

Finally the vendor perspective: The two entities in question, painted their own understanding of the ’facts’ behind the “Get the Facts” campaign.

A spokesperson from Microsoft India commented, “The campaign was launched in India in April this year. Over the last few years, and the last one year in particular, there has been substantial commentary on the Linux v/s Microsoft debate, and the feedback that we received from customers was that we as a company had not made enough of an effort to educate our customers about our value proposition vis-à-vis this new technology that they were hearing about. “Get the Facts” is Microsoft’s pragmatic approach towards educating its customers and clearing some of the myths associated with the Open Source v/s proprietary software debate.”

“Not only that, external sources are also taking the liberty to define how this impacts us. We realized that our initial reservations about commenting on Linux had allowed confusion and misconceptions to set in, and that we had also permitted others to define how our operating systems compare with Linux. With the “Get the Facts” campaign, our aim is to cut through that hype and confusion, and present customers with facts that allow them to make an informed decision about their platform choice. The areas that we have chosen for this communication campaign are the ones that we feel are currently the most hazy / confusing for our customers. These include TCO, security and reliability, the spokesperson continued.

So Does Microsoft really consider Linux as a potential threat to its business in the Indian enterprise market? The spokesperson replied, “The fact is that Linux competes with us in ’certain’ areas. Just like we do not ignore any other competitor, we don’t ignore Linux either. Our success has been based on the fact that we always keep the customer’s interest on top of our minds.”

And what does India’s foremost Linux vendor Red Hat feel about Microsoft’s “Get the Facts” campaign? Javed Tapia, director, Red Hat India, replied, “This aggressive advertising campaign is a demonstration of how potentially damaging Linux is to Microsoft’s business. Our climbing sales figures combined with a majority of financial and business analysis, points to a global macro trend that Linux is a burgeoning platform–considered as a viable alternative to proprietary software, versus the micro trend indicated by a couple of customers in these advertisements. At the end of the day, I feel that customers are intelligent enough not to be carried away by advertisements and decide for themselves. The fact that Linux has come so far without any major advertising effort is the strongest testimonial to support that fact.”

Some may argue that the war is between Linux and Unix, with the Redmond giant nowhere in the picture. The war back home isn’t about communalism, and most CIOs are least bothered about the open v/s proprietary software debate. At the end of the day it’s all about business, and that’s the bottom line.

However, the bottom line is that the campaign certainly raises some uncomfortable questions. With all three quotes taken from dated case studies (some of them going as far as 4 years back), their significance in the present day seems diluted. Nevertheless, the campaign has definitely solidified one fact that will resonate in the market for years to come: Push the giant from Redmond too far, and you will have a tough battle staring you in your face–and no holds barred competition at that.

But in the end the ball is in the CIOs court. Competition will eventually lead to meaty price cuts. All that remains to be seen now is: How many CIOs will eventually “Get Their Facts Right?”