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The Beast has hired a research crew to do a bit of attitude sampling among the Great Unwashed in the US and abroad, and has found that slagging Linux is not winning it any points. In a company memo posted by Eric S. Raymond here we learn that regular folks are both eager for a Microsoft alternative and generally respectful of the open-source concept.

We also learn that bombastic hoots by Steve Ballmer likening the GPL to a virus are in fact offensive to many people. Outright lies, like Ballmer's claim that Windows is, overall, cheaper than Linux also haven't been playing well, the researchers discovered.

"A plurality (40%) of all respondents felt that a low TCO [total cost of ownership] was the best reason to support OSS [open source software], the report says. MS does make much about the fact that running *nix requires a bit of expertise, whereas dumber, hence cheaper, employees can manage a Windows system. On the other hand they've got a license that just keeps on taking, so it's hard to believe that after a couple of years the Redmond crack addiction isn't going to start upsetting the economic tables to MS' advantage.

Additionally, we're told that "one-third of all respondents cited 'an alternative to Microsoft' as one of the best reasons to support OSS." Apparently a lot of people are starting to question the wisdom of a computing monoculture, as they should.

Most interestingly, "messages that criticize OSS, Linux, & the GPL are NOT effective," the survey crew has learned. (emphasis original)

"On the other hand, 'positive' OSS, Linux, and GPL messages are very effective -- both across geographies and audiences."

What this might mean we're almost afraid to ask. But apparently we can expect Ballmer to start waxing sentimental about how wonderful Linux and the GPl are, second only to Windows and the license that keeps on taking.

"In the short term, then, Microsoft should avoid criticizing OSS and Linux directly, continue to develop and aim to eventually win the TCO argument."

I have no idea what this means but I can hardly wait to find out. I seriously doubt that the TCO argument can be won without frequent recourse to outrageous lies and strident insistence that black is white and up is down. But then this is the sort of gravity-defying rhetoric at which the Redmond PR machine excels, so all bets are off.

One of the goals of the survey was to compare reactions to open-source software and Microsoft's self-serving substitute with strings, 'shared-source' software. There's a fair bit of tortured rhetoric involved, but the wind-up is that SSS could probably fly so long as it's adequately misrepresented. Traditionally cynical Europeans and Asians are unlikely to be fooled, the survey notes, but Americans won't be much trouble, having always been easy, willing prey for commercial manipulators and propagandists.

"Overall, the greatest challenges we face are with the International audience -- especially the French, Germans, and Japanese," the memo laments.

But they've still got the Americans by the short and curlies: "support for Shared Source was strongest in the US (73%)," the writers were relieved to say.

Of course that number is certain to change as the details become better known. ®

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