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Microsoft's Smear Campaign Against OpenOffice.org

By Katherine Noyes
Oct 21, 2010 5:00 AM PT

For a company that "loves" open source so much, Microsoft sure has a funny way of showing it.

Microsoft's Smear Campaign Against OpenOffice.org

Remember its job ad back in January, seeking someone to fill the role of "Linux and Open Office Compete Lead"? Well, whoever was hired for that position must now be bucking for a raise, having gone above and beyond -- in a very public way -- with a recent effort.

A video, to be specific, warning potential adopters of OpenOffice.org about all the many perils associated with using the open source software.

"We originally installed Linux-based PCs running OpenOffice to save money in the short term," one unseen voice complains, for example, "but we quickly found that the exorbitant cost and limited availability of support left us worse off."

The video goes on and on with one purported horror story after another, playing on all the classic myths and FUD Microsoft is so well known for. Who can guess what effect it will have on adoption of OpenOffice? However, its effect on the FOSS community's collective blood pressure is already patently clear.

'Thanks, Microsoft'

"You don't compare a rival's product with your own if it is not comparable," Glyn Moody wrote on Computerworld UK, for example. "And you don't make this kind of attack video unless you are really, really worried about the growing success of a competitor."

Indeed, Microsoft "gives more free advertising to their competitors with these immature rants and stunts than any company I can think of," opined Jamie. "I'll bet for many this is the first they've heard of OpenOffice, and it's all thanks to Microsoft."

Similarly, "for all the people who get exposed to this new video by what ever means, if they never heard of OpenOffice before they sure have now -- thanks Microsoft :)" agreed inflex on Slashdot.

Declarations both for and against OpenOffice.org could also be heard on Ars Technica, on LWN and beyond, so Linux Girl knew it was time for a drink or two at the blogosphere's seedy Broken Windows Lounge.

'I'm Not Sure the FUD Will Work'

"Microsoft is running scared since in the near term users are much more likely to switch to OpenOffice than Linux, making OpenOffice a more immediate threat to their bottom line," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined over the barroom din. "I'm not sure the FUD will work out how they are hoping, though, since it's very easy to tell for yourself if OpenOffice will work for you or not.

"It was also interesting to note how many of the complaints were as a direct result of Microsoft making sure no one else can properly use their file formats," Mack noted.

Microsoft is "capitalizing on the fact that some businesses don't properly evaluate their needs before deciding what to migrate to, and often do not provide adequate training," chimed in Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

'Free Advertising for Open Source'

"Migration is tough business," Travers pointed out. "It should be done slowly and working in concert with those using the new systems. Of course people are going to run into trouble sometimes!"

In the long run, though, the video may actually end up being good for open source, Travers added.

"First, it demonstrates that open source solutions cannot be ignored," he noted. "Second, it brings attention to common migration pitfalls. The first is free advertising for open source solutions, and the second is functionally equivalent to a public service announcement saying, 'be careful when you migrate.'"

Either way, "I used to use Microsoft's 'Get the Facts' papers in my sales pitches for Linux," Travers concluded. "Now I have something to use in my sales pitches for open source migration services. Thanks, Microsoft!"

'Where Else Are They Cheating?'

Consumers and businesses "should see this as a signal that it is time to go to FLOSS," blogger Robert Pogson opined.

The material in the video "is horrible stuff by incompetent IT leaders who do not see the big picture," Pogson asserted. "Of course if you continue to do things the way M$ has trained you, you will have problems with GNU /Linux. GNU/Linux is not that other OS, twits!"

Microsoft "should be embarrassed for manipulating their customers this way," he concluded. "When your supplier spreads falsehoods, you should know to find a different supplier. If M$ cares that little about the truth, where else are they cheating?"

'There Is NO Way You Can Compare'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn't convinced.

Word documents are no problem under OpenOffice.org, he began; "the problem with OpenOffice is the other pieces of the suite have been treated like red-headed stepchildren under Sun. There is NO way you can compare Excel and Calc, none at all."

Excel macros, for instance, "are easy to make and VERY powerful," hairyfeet opined. "Compare that to Calc, which is frankly a mess when it comes to macros."

Then, too, there's the question of interoperability, hairyfeet noted.

"All these companies have to deal with OTHER companies, the vast majority of which will be running some version of MS Office," he explained. "If their files end up looking like a mess, well NO business wants to look like Mickey Mouse Amateur hour.

"For OpenOffice to really have a shot it will need SERIOUS dedication to bug fixing, compatibility and making sure that new features don't break old," hairyfeet concluded.

'The Decision Boils Down to Inertia'

Then again, Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site, had yet a different perspective.

"There was a time when we could say that 80 percent of users used 20 percent of the features in an office suite," Hudson began. "The problem was that too often it was a different 20 percent, so everyone needed a 'full-featured' suite."

Now, "because of the growth in the user base, as well as continually adding new features that most people don't even know about, never mind use, it's more like 90 percent of users use the same 10 percent of the features available," Hudson suggested. "For the vast majority of users, the decision as to which office suite to use boils down to inertia: 'Stick with what you have, because it's good enough.'"

'Microsoft Is Still Focused on Past Glories'

Of course, "the real threat isn't openoffice.org, or libreoffice, but online document creation and distribution," Hudson opined. "For most users, for most documents, the net is now rapidly approaching 'good enough.'"

History, then, is repeating itself, she suggested.

"Just as Microsoft famously missed the early Internet as a game changer, the browser as an application and content delivery platform, and -- more recently -- net-tops, smartphones and app stores, this video shows Microsoft is still focused on the desktop and past glories, and is missing the real threat," Hudson concluded.

"That's Microsoft," she added. "Putting new meaning into the 'backward' in 'backward compatibility.'"

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