Microsoft Asked To Change Misleading Linux Ad

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has asked Microsoft to change an ad that claims Linux has been found to be over 10 times more expensive than Windows Server. The group evaluated the truthfulness of the ad after a number of public complaints were filed.

In the ad, Microsoft cites figures from a META Group study that measured the costs of Linux running on IBM’s z900 mainframe for Windows comparable functions of file serving and Web serving. The ASA pointed out that, in the ad, Windows was running on a dual 900-MHz Xeon configuration, which skewed the results of the comparison.

The ASA is an independent body set up by the UK’s advertising industry to police the rules for nonbroadcast ads, sales promotions and direct marketing. It follows guidelines set down by the Committee of Advertising Practice, a professional organization composed of advertisers, agencies, service suppliers and media owners.

ASA Press officer Donna Mitchell told LinuxInsider that Microsoft responded quickly to the body’s request that they change the ad in question. “They’ve given us assurance that they’ll make the amendments, in line with the ruling,” she said. “Hopefully, this should be the end of the matter.”

Truth in Advertising

Microsoft’s ad ran in an IT magazine, and bore the headline, “Weighing the cost of Linux vs. Windows? Let’s review the facts.”

The ad falls in line with a major comparison initiative being done by Microsoft on the two systems, and the company has set up an extensive Web site that includes case studies, third-party findings and Microsoft statements.

In referencing the META Group study in its advertising, Microsoft implied that the comparison was not hardware specific. But readers, and subsequently the ASA, disagreed.

In upholding the complaints, the ASA stated that readers would infer that Linux and Windows operating systems were being compared directly, but because the comparison included hardware, it did not show that running Linux was ten times more expensive.

The organization therefore concluded the ad was misleading, and advised Microsoft to make changes that would more accurately reflect price comparisons.

Wait and See

Microsoft is not a “problem advertiser,” Mitchell said, noting that the company has only come up in two other complaints in the last three years.

One of those, in which Microsoft claimed the Xbox was the most powerful gaming machine available, was not upheld by the ASA, so Microsoft was not forced to change the ad.

If Microsoft does not amend its Linux ad, the ASA has the power to take several steps to force a change. It can weigh sanctions against a publication that knowingly runs the ad. More likely, though, it will go after Microsoft directly.

Unlike advertising watchdog groups in the United States, the ASA has the ability to draw on a statutory body and impose heavy fines on an advertiser that does not follow the ASA’s directives. Mitchell noted, however, that this is done only in extreme cases, and the organization does not anticipate that it will have to take such a heavy-handed approach with Microsoft.

“They have some leeway in terms of timing,” she said, “but I expect they’ll comply and we’ll hear no more about it.”

Euro Microsoft

The objections to the advertisement come at a time when Microsoft is under scrutiny in Europe. As well as tangling with the European Union over accusations of monopolistic practices, Microsoft also must contend with the growing use of Linux by government bodies.

These factors are creating an interesting blend in Europe for Microsoft, said Aberdeen analyst Peter Kastner. He told LinuxInsider that it puts the company under scrutiny, which is apparent from the objections over the recent Linux ad.

At the same time, Microsoft is also dominant in many parts of Europe, and has the support of a large amount of users. “The company has a lot of friends,” said Kastner.

“Especially in the corporate arena, people are watching to see what happens with the EU decision,” he added. “Some people see the EU as being bureaucratic and punitive, while others see Microsoft as evil.”

The result of these mixed feelings is that future Microsoft ads might be looked at more closely than those in the past, especially if the company is making claims about Linux.

Microsoft Response

A Microsoft spokesperson told LinuxInsider that the company has been working with the ASA “to understand and address their concerns about the advertisement in question.”

The advertisement ran for three months in the UK market — from February to May — and is no longer running in the UK. “Microsoft UK will continue to work with ASA to address their concerns going forward,” the spokesperson said.

“Microsoft UK will ensure compliance with ASA requirements. Our customers continue to value information comparing various vendors technology offerings. We believe it is important to continue to provide this kind of factual information.”

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