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Microsoft Memo: Some Anti-Linux Messages Backfire

Some of Microsoft's more aggressive public arguments against Linux and Open Source Software backfired with key customer groups, according to an internal Microsoft memo leaked to an open source advocacy site.

An annotated version of the memo appeared this week at the Web site of the Open Source Initiative advocacy group.

Unlike Bill Gates' Trustworthy Computing memo, this memo was probably never intended to be leaked, although people familiar with the memo have confirmed its authenticity.

Microsoft commissioned a telephone survey conducted last year with developers, IT and non-IT business decision makers, IT professionals and "issue elites" in the United States, Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan. It was called the "Attitudes Towards Shared Source & Open Source Research Project," and the memo was for use in a Microsoft-conducted Linux Strategic Review. The survey involved open questions, but respondents were also asked to respond to Microsoft-prepared statements that included criticisms of Linux and OSS, benefits of Microsoft's Shared Source initiative and descriptions of the benefits of Linux/OSS.

Over the past few years, Microsoft officials have attempted to blunt Linux and open-source momentum with direct attacks on possible Linux patent violations, a lack of accountability in the development process, possible security flaws and alleged pitfalls of the General Public License that governs open-source software use.

According to the memo's authors, the results of Microsoft's own survey indicated that those direct assaults weren't working.

"Messages that criticize OSS, Linux, & the GPL are NOT effective," the memo reads. "Messaging that discusses possible Linux patent violations, pings the OSS development process for lacking accountability, attempts to call out the 'viral' aspect of the GPL, and the like are only marginally effective in driving unfavorable opinions around OSS, Linux, and the GPL, and in some cases backfire."

A concrete example of a criticism backfiring involved TCO. According to the memo, "When read what was supposed to be a negative OSS message about OSS and proprietary software having a similar TCO, nearly half (49 percent) of all respondents said that having heard this message they were now MORE FAVORABLE towards OSS [Emphasis Microsoft's]."

By contrast, positive messages about OSS, Linux and the GPL are very effective in producing favorable opinions, the memo's authors noted.

The telephone survey also revealed to Microsoft that Linux and OSS are viewed very favorably by the groups surveyed.

Worldwide, 81 percent of respondents said they were at least somewhat familiar with OSS, and, of those, 78 percent had a favorable impression of OSS. Those respondents reporting that they were somewhat familiar with Linux amounted to 78 percent. Of those familiar with Linux, a whopping 86 percent had a favorable impression of Linux.

As for reasons to support OSS, a plurality of 40 percent said low Total Cost of Ownership was the best reason to support OSS. Close behind was "an alternative to Microsoft," the second most chosen best reason at 34 percent.

Hand in hand with the "alternative to Microsoft" reason, other parts of the survey suggest that respondents based outside the United States had reservations about sending large portions of their IT budgets to a U.S.-based firm.

Read the memo at:
www.opensource.org/halloween/halloween7.php.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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