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Spooky Reg powers zap MS Linux hit man's gig

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The Register has many strange and wonderful powers, but even we are ever so slightly surprised to learn we can make Microsoft functions disappear without thinking about them, or even knowing of their existence. A mere mention, apparently, makes the Dark Lord DOSferatu* shrink back and wither, as if caught in the pure light of dawn.

Next week, we seem to have been specifically not informed, Microsoft's chief Linux and platform strategist Martin Taylor will be giving a small number of one-on-one interviews at the Sanderson Hotel in London. Readers familiar with The Reg's legendary fairness will note that we make nothing of the venue being formerly a showroom for expensive wallpaper. Apart from ourselves, we do not know who else has been not invited. Or indeed invited, aside from The Independent's veteran tech correspondent Charles Arthur, who has turned down the "rare" opportunity.

Charles doesn't like one-on-ones that are arranged by the company, as it's usually just Getting the Message Across, PR face-time with suits. He prefers roundtables, and says that as there was one planned here, he tried to get John Lettice of The Register there, "while Edelman PR has been gently resisting." How very kind of him.

He continues: "Then, after I’ve moved various pieces of heaven and earth around to accommodate Edelman on the basis it would be a round table, Edelman calls just now, a week ahead of the event, and says it’s going to be one-on-ones after all. Well, I’m furious; and I’ve told them that I’m not going and that I think it’s disgraceful to change things like this."

So did lobbying for The Reg make the Beast's roundtable dissolve? We certainly have some experience of being told by Microsoft that they've invited some reputable journalists instead.

There does however seem to be some justification for Charles "face-time" jibe when it comes to Taylor's recent engagement book. Over the past couple of weeks he's popped up in both CNET and Computerworld spreading the new gospel of Get the Facts, which in headline would appear to be that Microsoft will be training its fire specifically on Red Hat, IBM and Novell, as opposed to Linux in general, and that Microsoft will have to devise a different pitch, including figuring out "the coolness factor", in order to win over students and programmers. More on the coolness issue can be found at CNET, here, but we at The Reg feel (as we would have told Taylor had he been able to ask us), that he will be on career-threatening territory if he ever figures this out.

Ask yourself, why is Steve Jobs cool, why is Scott McNealy cool? Is Bill Gates cool like Steve or Scott? Is Microsoft cool like Apple? Trust us Martin, just don't go there, there's a long history to it.

The current Taylor roadshow pitch does however have an underlying structure that's worth going into a little. The newness of the focus on specific Linux companies is just a little improbable, considering that the customers Taylor has been aiming the Get the Facts campaign at are, if they are buying Linux, almost certainly going to be buying it from one of these three companies, each of whom is becoming more capable of using Linux to threaten Microsoft on the desktop. This is not new, although what might be new is Microsoft figuring out that its bullets will count for more if it doesn't try to shoot everybody at once.

Taylor's obsession with "the stack", which is covered pretty well here in Computerworld, also tells us a couple of things. He describes Novell as having "the best point-to-point stack from the kernel through to the application layer and things that go on top of it," and suggests that Novell's need to differentiate itself will mean "that they need to find ways to basically almost have a customized distribution."

Now, you could reasonably call this part ignorance, part wishful thinking. Taylor, who was Microsoft before he was Microsoft's Mr Linux, is thinking in terms of Windows' construction, projecting this onto Linux distributions, then wishing for consequent forking. But it's what Microsoft wants to happen rather than what's going to happen.

As far as The Register's regular readers are concerned, what he has to tell Computerworld about Microsoft commissioning analyst firms to produce Get the Facts reports on Linux is of interest. Says Taylor: "If someone says, "Hey, Customer X says, 'If I had this data, it will help me make a decision, comparing Microsoft to Linux.'" So Taylor then gets straight on the phone to the analysts saying this is something customers care about, so will they produce something. And sometimes they say yes, and do it themselves, while other times they say: "Actually, it's not that interesting to us, but if you care about it, we'll use our methodology and stand behind it, but you have to fund it, because it costs money to get the samples, get the customers, get everything."

So that's how all those Microsoft paid-for studies rubbishing Linux get paid for. It's customer demand. This does not quite in our estimation explain how Microsoft customers threatening to flee to open source get studies paid for by Microsoft. Nor does it explain how such studies get selectively recycled by Microsoft, nor indeed how the spun Microsoft version of the grisly truth gets to show up in business magazines that should surely know better. Funnily enough, that last one is currently listed in Microsoft's Of Note Hall of Shame. Strong journalists quake at the thought that they might one day find one of their pieces linked to from here, Microsoft's page of stuff written about them that they actually like. Brrr... ®

* Actually, now we mention it, don't you see something of a likeness?

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