Microsoft’s Linux Strategist Speaks Out

To be a Linux strategist at Microsoft seems a contradiction, even an oxymoron. It is like being a vegetarian butcher shop owner, or a pacifist Army general. Yet Martin Taylor, with the official title of general manager of platform strategy, must fill just such a role.

In a recent Computerworld interview, Taylor spoke about his first year in dealing with Linux, and the types of strategies that Microsoft is employing to address open source.

Taylor noted that a year ago, Microsoft had a fairly direct strategy of beefing up a “more fact-oriented approach” to combat Linux adoption. Over time, it has broadened that tactic as Linux found more commercialization. According to Taylor, presenting Microsoft’s view in relation to Linux costs has been valuable for the company.

“[I]t’s actually been something that tips the scales sometimes when people are on the fence,” said Taylor.

Looking at Novell

In the interview, Taylor also gave his opinion on Novell, noting that the company was in an “in-between period,” but that Microsoft considers it a major Linux competitor.

“They want to be platform-agnostic a little bit, because really their business is not NetWare,” he said. He added that Novell’s business is ZenWorks and everything that runs on top of that, with the ability to cater to Windows, Linux and NetWare.

“But over time, they’re going to have to really get committed to a platform and further invent that,” said Taylor.

Jeff Hawkins, vice president of the Linux Business Office at Novell, told LinuxInsider that the company has already pledged its allegiance to Linux.

“Novell wants to make sure that everyone understands that we are committed to open source,” he said. “It’s not just a passing fancy.”

He added that Linux adoption is on an incredible trajectory, and that challenges are being addressed collectively by the industry. But there is still some ground to be covered.

“Getting beyond the Microsoft and SCO FUD, we need to do more to educate and increase Linux literacy,” said Hawkins. “More and more ISVs and corporate developers are looking to Linux as a great solution platform, and a way to make money and save money.”

The Facts, Microsoft Style

Beyond mapping out a strategy to take on Novell, Microsoft is putting an enormous amount of effort into its “get out the facts” campaign, which makes direct comparisons of Linux costs and Windows pricing.

The campaign, which is featured on a special section of Microsoft’s site, includes analyst reports, as well as case studies of companies that have switched to Linux and then switched back to Windows.

Microsoft recently came under fire in the UK when it ran an ad in trade publications there as part of the campaign. The country’s Advertising Standards Authority 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 several public complaints were filed.

Although Microsoft complied, it will continue to make similar comparisons, according to Taylor. In particular, the company will encourage analysts to do more research.

In the interview, he noted, “If there are facts or things that are needed, I’m going to hope that I can entice the analyst firms to go do it on their own because they think it’s also important. But if they don’t, then I’ll commission it.”

Long Battle Ahead

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told LinuxInsider that open-source advocates should not expect Microsoft to back off from combating Linux any time soon.

Employing a strategist like Taylor merely shows that the company wants to know as much as possible about Linux to fight it.

“Microsoft is aware of what’s happening with Linux,” she said. “I think they used to believe it wasn’t worth fighting, but that view has changed.”

Taylor echoed this sentiment, noting in the recent interview that Microsoft will continue to focus customer attention not just on the costs associated with Linux, but also on its security and reliability.

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