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Microsoft kicked off the first of its seminars "to help customers better understand the debate surrounding Microsoft and Open Source software" with an all-day conference in London yesterday. The latest strand in Microsoft's "Get the Facts" counter-offensive against Linux will tour Britain this summer.

Analyst Philip Dawson from Meta Group set the tone during a panel discussion by arguing that higher support, training and integration costs can offset the free licensing costs of Linux. He also highlighted the growing maturity of Linux, and the inroads both Microsoft and Linux are making into the traditional Unix market. As vendors add more functions to software, the multi-million dollar enterprise market is becoming a stack war instead of an OS war, he said.

According to Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft UK, independent and funded research shows that Windows 2003 is less expensive than Red Hat or SuSE in some examples. He attacked the "myth" that Linux was free. Linux has strengths, McGrath said (without saying what they might be -spoil sport) before arguing that "Windows offers a more comprehensive environment".

Nick Barley, business and marketing director of Microsoft UK, said the "tabloid view" is that the battle between Microsoft and Linux is a struggle between "the free world and a big monopolist run by the richest man in the world". He said this "jihad about technology" between rival operating systems ignored the bigger problem that IT is badly regarded in the boardroom. "We need to better communicate the value of IT to business," he said.

The event promised to discuss "pros and cons of Microsoft's technology platform in relation to Linux and Open Source" and many Open Source advocates were present at the debate. Microsoft's Barley used to sit on the other side of the fence himself as a Linux advocate at Oracle. He acknowledged that Microsoft's recent licensing policies had "backfired" by upsetting some customers but that's as close as Microsoft got to saying its practices - rather than its messages - could benefit from a change.

Face the facts

As The Register's John Lettice recently wrote "Microsoft thinks Windows 'wins against Linux every time' but customers think Windows is expensive and Linux much cheaper". Microsoft reckons if it puts its "facts" before users who've been deluded by "open source myths" they will ultimately come around to Microsoft's way of thinking.

"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," Lettice argues.

Microsoft's 'Get the Facts' tour will be in Edinburgh on 17 June, Manchester on 29 June and Newport, Wales on 7 July. ®

Related stories:

Microsoft UK plans 'open and honest' Linux debates
Microsoft ad push cranks up the - get Linux - volume
MS' Linux obsession - time to call in the shrinks
Ballmer 'fesses up to Linux/Windows cost FUD
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