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Asus and Microsoft: 'It's Better With Windows'?

Asus and Microsoft: 'It's Better With Windows'?

When Linux bloggers stumbled upon a Web page touting the virtues of Windows for running Asus' Eee PC Seashell, a furor erupted. At least as arguable as the merits of the Windows OS for netbooks, though, was the question of whether the offending Web page actually was the work of Asus and Microsoft -- or a troll.

By Katherine Noyes
06/01/09 4:00 AM PT

Every once in a while a topic comes up on the Linux blogs that simply can't be ignored.

Just last week, for example, the blogs were humming along as they always do, with various cheers and debates over news such as Red Hat's appeal for open competition in Switzerland and the New Zealand government's (highly commendable) decision to stop its negotiations with Microsoft for a pan-government agreement.

Indeed, bloggers were fairly rubbing their hands with glee as they sped along the highway of joy pondering such news when suddenly -- out of nowhere -- a brick wall appeared.

This particular brick wall goes by the name, "It's Better With Windows," and -- apparently, at least -- it's a joint effort by none other than Microsoft and Asus. The impact was powerful and unexpected; several bloggers are now in critical condition -- virtually speaking -- as a result.

'Two Points for Snarky Comments'

Holden Page at TechGeist seems to have been the first to the break the news, pointing readers to an Asus UK Web page describing the Eee PC Seashell.

Scroll down that page, and toward the bottom you'll see -- right next to the Windows logo -- a link to the brick wall described above.

Click on that, and it's a virtual horror show sure to chill the blood of Linux geeks far and wide.

"Windows helps you quickly and easily get online and connect to your devices and services -- without dealing with an unfamiliar environment or major compatibility issues," it reads -- bold italics theirs. "Trusted ... Familiar ... Compatible."

As Page wrote, "I give Microsoft two points for snarky comments."

Asus, we thought you cared! What in the world happened to bring about this travesty? So profound was the shock in the Linux community, in fact, that many have seriously questioned the legitimacy of the site.

'A Hack-Job'

"This website is such a hack-job," wrote al3 on Slashdot, where more than 600 comments had exploded by Friday. "I can't believe MS or Asus was involved.

"The video player is FlowPlayer, the tracking uses Google Analytics, the fonts are all wrong for a MS job," al3 added. "There's no copyright, disclaimer, contact. Nothing. I call bullshit. That, and I don't believe MS would be encouraging people to use XP with Vista taking so much heat and Windows 7 just on the horizon."

More than a few bloggers agreed -- but not everyone.

'Did They Threaten Asus?'

"I wonder how much MS paid for this special treatment," wondered gtall. "Or did they threaten Asus with higher prices?"

Alternatively, following a Whois search of the offending site's domain -- with results suggesting the registrant is from a PR agency in Washington state -- eldavojohn wrote, "I would put my guess at 95% that this is a Microsoft run and funded site with little to do with Asus other than get their permission."

Then again: "Asus thinks Windows is better because they now get it almost for free," wrote Elektroschock. "But the very reason for that was their progressive Linux embracement."

There's nothing like high financial stakes and a hint of mystery -- with the possibility of forgery, sabotage and plain old dirty pool thrown in -- to make any good reporter leap into action. Sure enough, that's what we here at LinuxInsider did.

'You Have Been Trolled'

"YHBT YHL HAND: You have been trolled. You have lost. Have a nice day" is what Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider via email. "The site looks fake."

Neither Asus nor Microsoft "would leave the DNS hosting on godaddy," Mack added. "The troll probably grabbed a real marketing video, but I don't see any reason we should care about the video since it's nothing new."

Indeed, "see the 'whois' on the domains asus.com.tw, asus.com and asus.co.uk," Slashdot blogger drinkypoo suggested. "The first two are both official sites, registered through official registrars. The latter is the alleged official site, redundant to asus.com."

Eldavojohn's Whois search results, on the other hand, might suggest the site is legitimate, drinkypoo conceded.

The verdict? "Until an official statement comes out, all we can do is play guessing games," drinkypoo told LinuxInsider by email. "I'd like to perform more comparisons between the official site and the alleged official site, but the official site crashes my browser -- which is to say, Firefox on Ubuntu Jaunty."

'C- for Content, D for Delivery'

Businesses go where the money goes, so "I'm not surprised at Asus's turnabout," Slashdot blogger yagu opined. "Linux isn't a cash cow. Businesses yield to pressure; Linux can't apply that."

Looking at the site, "it's hard not to laugh and hard not to cry," yagu told LinuxInsider in an email message. "The 'better with Windows' screed is basically a vignette/video with no narrative but a neo-feel-good music track showing a family (we assume) living their life magically enhanced with (ostensibly) Microsoft technology Visit the VMware Tech Center.

"I give the video a C- for content and a D for delivery of meaningful messages," he added. "Interestingly, there was nothing shown not doable with Linux."

'Another Welt for Linux'

As for the "Trusted ... Familiar ... Compatible" text, yagu isn't so sure:

"Trusted? Nope, I don't trust Microsoft, I don't trust Windows. I spend way too much of my spare time fixing broken Microsoft environments for friends and family cuz 'that's what I do.'"

"Familiar? Yep. Every time I sit in front of my Windows host it's the same old familiar story: 'An update needs to be installed,' 'Your computer needs to be restarted,' 'Your virtual memory is low,' etc. It's easier to count the times I sit down to XP and do *not* have to deal with annoyances than it is when I do."

"Compatible? Hardly. Microsoft and compatible are virtual antonyms."

Bottom line? "Another notch for Microsoft. Another welt for Linux," yagu concluded. "To borrow from Ellerbee, 'and so it goes.'"

'They're Missing the Point'

Yet at least one blogger thought the site might make a few legitimate points.

"It's fact, and a lot of Linux fans hate that," Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider by email. "Am I saying Windows is better for me? No, especially not XP. But the reasons that are given as part of the 'It's Better With Windows' campaign? Yes."

Linux advocates "will instantly object, saying 'You can do everything on Linux'," Dean predicted. "But they're missing the point."

For example: "Can Linux natively run MSN Live Messenger? No," Dean asserted. "Can a new user (who needed help setting up Messenger four years ago) get on Kopete or Pidgin, login, easily find the 'Start a video chat' button or intuitively pick which games they want to play over MSN? No. Many of those features aren't even supported, actually."

Dean supports open source software, "but the difference between 'open source' and 'proprietary' doesn't factor in here at all," he explained. "Microsoft and Asus aren't claiming that 'proprietary software is better by virtue of being proprietary' -- they're claiming it's better by virtue of being familiar to a LOT of users.

"There's a lot of value in familiar, and I think it speaks volumes that it's so frequently ignored within the Linux community," he charged.

'This Looks Like a Sell-Out'

Educator and blogger Robert Pogson even sent Asus an email to ask for "clarification of their position on GNU/Linux," he told LinuxInsider.

No reply so far, Pogson said, but "this looks like a sell-out. They did innovate with the EeePC and saw the value of GNU/Linux. Now it seems they have sold out to the Wintel monopoly."

Pogson actually bought two systems from Asus this year, "believing they valued FLOSS," he asserted. "Obviously they value their relationship with monopoly more. In a year or two, when others are growing and they are stagnating, perhaps they will recant."

'Asus Will Be Next'

In fact, "it looks to me that this is a part of a global scheme to upgrade netbooks to Vista-capable and keep ASPs high," Pogson said. "This is anti-consumer if not anti-competitive. The consumer wants prices to continue declining and will choose suppliers who go that way, especially in emerging markets."

Short-term thinking "often precedes a disaster in business," Pogson concluded. "This could be one. Dell took a huge hit because they do not supply what the customer wants; I suspect Asus will be next."


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