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MS' Linux obsession – time to call in the shrinks

If you need to keep proving yourself, people wonder about the size of your...

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This week's 'Windows is cheaper than Linux' story comes to us courtesy of Giga Research, which with the aid of Microsoft funding has produced a study indicating that it is cheaper to create a portal using Windows and Microsoft development tools than using Linux and Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) tools. The study is apparently to be used by Microsoft's new kinder, gentler and more fact-based GM for platform strategy Martin Taylor in his campaign to convince customers that nine out of ten cats who expressed a preference reckoned that Linux is pooh. And in this campaign, he has the best facts money can buy.

We accept that was unfair, but submit that it was eminently called for. At time of writing the latest study had not yet graced Microsoft's large and growing pile of proof that Windows is better than Linux (example, sample), and we accept that it's perfectly possible that under some circumstances Windows development might work out cheaper than Linux development, but Microsoft's current obsession with 'proving' its product is better, over and over again, is both futile and unhealthy.

Microsoft paying for the stuff is a problem in itself. When analysts come up with reports, in general people assume somebody must have paid, but in many cases they don't ask too hard. In the case of reports favourable to Microsoft, however, there is a general presumption (which generally turns out to be true) that Microsoft must have paid for it. And then, in light of the company's history of serial duplicity and ham-fisted sponsoring subterfuge, they assume it must be rubbish. So we really can't see why Microsoft should bother.

But there's a deeper problem. After confining itself to abuse for several years, Microsoft decided, rather noisily, that it would switch over to "facts". The company thinks, now it's done that, that the new approach should be much more credible with the world, and a year or two down the line will no doubt emerge baffled that the world has stubbornly refused to agree 'tis so. These days, when an exec mentions Linux, you get "facts", some of them quite fact-like, others, ones we have some considerable doubt about. These, really, are a bit like the old-style abuse, except they're sort of fact-like.

Clearly, the "facts" spun by the execs have been pre-selected and honed to cast Windows in the best possible light versus Linux. So they're kind of like the facts in the Iraq dossier - propaganda really, and as with the Iraq dossier getting real people to believe them, even if they're true, is quite hard.

And trying is pretty pointless, if you ask us. Problem number three is one that will also be familiar to politicians. Microsoft thinks the problem is getting the message across. Microsoft thinks Windows "wins against Linux every time" (although it appears unwilling to share that particular case study outside its reseller community), whereas large swathes of customers think Windows is expensive and Linux much cheaper. Microsoft is therefore convinced that if it continues to place "the facts" in front of these sad, deluded people they will ultimately accept that Microsoft is right, and Windows will triumph. But this is advanced stupidity.

The people installing Linux systems are not dunces, and (particularly if they're installing them on what Microsoft regards as it's own turf) they'll have gone into the costings pretty damn thoroughly. They're not going ahead with Linux because they don't know any better, they've got their own "facts", based on their own research and experience. If Microsoft products really are, or become, more cost-effective then customers' experiences and perceptions will change in Microsoft's favour. As politicians all know, really, when you say it's a matter of getting the message across you really mean that the customers have figured out the product stinks. So once they've kicked you out you stop whining about the message and get down to fixing the product.

And finally, this obsession with Linux is deeply unhealthy. If we were talking about a person, successful and perfectly normal apart from a compulsion to prove they're better than another, particular, person then we'd regard it as a case for analysis, right? If you're that secure in your success then you're confident, cool about rivals, you don't go on about them like that. Basically, this Linux stuff shows that Microsoft is going corporately nuts.

But we knew that, already. ®

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