by Joris Evers and Robert McMillan

Open-Source Debate: Microsoft Takes on Linux, Again

Sep 15, 20032 mins
Operating Systems

Talk on the campaign trail can get pretty rough, especially when the debate pits open source against Microsoft software. But now, Microsoft says, the gloves are back on, though the company has pledged to take the invective out of its talking points about Linux and open-source software.

Instead, Microsoft representatives plan to debate the relative merits of Windows and open-source software such as Linux using facts instead of emotionally charged statements. That’s according to Martin Taylor, Microsoft’s general manager of platform strategy who was appointed in July. It’s Taylor’s job to direct Microsoft’s thinking about open-source products. “It is not a religious discussion; it is a business model discussion,” Taylor says. “We kind of defaulted [to emotion in the past] because we could not think about Linux in the right way.”

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who two years ago likened Linux to a cancer, demonstrated the new fact-based tactic in July at Microsoft’s annual financial analyst meeting. Using numbers from various research companies, Ballmer argued Windows costs less, runs faster and is more secure than Linux. Ballmer’s remarks came just weeks after executives urged Microsoft’s sales force to avoid emotion and stick to facts when discussing Linux and open source.

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, called Microsoft’s change in tactics constructive. But open-source advocates were unimpressed. “A lot of people they talked to were interpreting ’Linux as a cancer’ as self-serving,” says Open Source Initiative President Eric Raymond. “The only thing it was doing was making Linux look good.”