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MS moves to head off Linux desktop ‘threat’

'You told us Linux is coming - we believe you!'

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Is Linux ready for the desktop? Microsoft seems to think so, if a company channel partner email leaked to The Register is anything to go by. The email, which we believe to be genuine, is labelled for the attention of Microsoft Certified Partners, and takes the form of a call to action aimed at intercepting major customers "seriously evaluating, piloting or deploying production Linux desktops."

The email apparently came from the recipient's usual Microsoft Channel Partner Manager, and was addressed to the company's usual contact, so it seems unlikely to be a fake. Nor, although some of the language is robust, does it go wildly over the top in the way fakes so frequently do.

The Microsoft manager is asking for information on customers planning to deploy Linux desktops, and requesting that the partner "complete the attached template [which we do not have, unfortunately] and send it to me." The manager is particularly interested in identifying vipers in the bosom of the Beast: "If you are the one promoting Linux to your customer, we should talk. I really want to understand why this is being pushed as opposed to Microsoft. If a customer is asking you, I understand the need to get the customer what they request [that's nice, if somewhat unconvincing], however if you are leading with it, I really want your honest feedback."

If any qualified Microsoft channel partner has received a similar email, and has already submitted their honest feedback, The Register would be pretty interested in seeing it too.

To some extent classic Redmond paranoia may be driving this particular campaign; the email author certainly seems far more convinced that Linux is a threat to Microsoft on the desktop than most of the rest of the world is. We know Microsoft's trial team claims it's a major threat, but we don't believe they really believe that; this person, however, sounds convinced.

"As you know, Linux is not only a threat to Microsoft's server business - it is increasingly becoming a threat to the desktop in a number of key areas. In roundtables you told us that Linux was coming, customers were asking for it, we believe you! We need to better understand where and why we are combating Linux on the desktop, and how we can improve our products and services to make sure we retain satisfied Microsoft customers. The only way we can understand it, is to hear from you or directly from your customers."

Now, here come those key areas we just touched on: "Large Organizations, Medium Organizations, Small Organizations, OEM, Home/Consumer, Education, and Government." Redmond paranoia again - isn't that everybody? Microsoft wants information on why these customers are considering Linux, and in the shorter term "will assist in pulling together resources to battle Linux in a given customer situation... we will engage with you... to keep them Microsoft or help them move to Microsoft technology."

That implies that would-be defectors are going to find themselves on the receiving end of combination Microsoft-partner SWAT teams. If one of them arrives at your company, tell us all about it, please. The process will likely commence with your receiving the template with a request that you complete it "to frame the threat."

As we say, we're pretty sure this email is genuine. We can't however be sure how widespread its distribution has been, and the level within the Microsoft hierarchy it comes from. It may simply be a single manager taking the note from on high and making up their own strategy, but even if that's the case it still gives us a fair idea of how Microsoft regards Linux on the desktop internally.

It's probably also useful to think of the email alongside a development it doesn't mention at all - the new Microsoft licensing model. If anything is going to drive major Microsoft customers towards Linux, then this is it. Companies have been doing their bean-counting, noting that the new model will cost them a bundle and railroad them into early adoption of all of Redmond's latest and greatest software, and some of them must at least be considering an escape route.

When they're contemplating the sheer pain of a rip and replace that'll land them and their staff with systems they don't actually know a great deal about, we still don't think many of them will jump. But the world looks different from inside Microsoft, where everything's viewed as a threat. That Redmond paranoia again? But the IT world would be a duller place if it didn't exist. ®

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