Microsoft woos OSDL for new Linux offensive

Microsoft has once again stirred up a hornet’s nest in the open-source community, this time approaching the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) to work with it on a joint, independent research project to do some facts-based analysis of Linux and Windows. While some in the Linux and open-source community have questioned why the large Linux vendors have not responded to Microsoft Corp.'s aggressive "Get the Facts campaign," which uses mostly Microsoft-sponsored analyst reports to compare and contrast Windows Server with Linux, they would be unlikely to support any joint partnership with Microsoft. But, undeterred, Martin Taylor, the architect of Microsoft's "Get the Facts" campaign and the Redmond, Wash. software firm's general manager of platform strategy, has proposed just that to OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen. The kicker is that Microsoft has also offered to pay for half of the funding costs for a joint research project should the OSDL agree to this. That is seen as unlikely for many reasons, one of which is that Linux founder and lead developer Linus Torvalds and his right-hand man Andrew Morton are both employed by the OSDL. Torvalds is a full-time fellow, working exclusively on driving the development of the open-source operating system. In an interview with eWEEK, Taylor said that he had been reading an opinion piece in one of the Linux magazines that identified the need for the Linux and open-source community to come up with its own facts-based effort. That motivated him to contact Cohen and suggest this. Taylor said he sent Cohen, in Beaverton, Ore., an Email ahead of the annual Linux World Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, suggesting the idea and asking for a meeting. The two then met at Linux World and discussed the idea and how it would work it broad terms, but there was no agreement of any sort, he said. Taylor also told Cohen that the research would be conducted by an independent analyst, consulting or business advisory firm on a topic that both felt would help further the dialogue. Taylor is hopeful that OSDL will take him up on his offer, but a spokesman for the Labs would do little more than confirm the chain of events and declined to comment on what was discussed. "Stuart Cohen did receive a request from Martin Taylor at Microsoft before Linux World. In part, Martin said he was interested in talking with Stuart about joint research opportunities on some of the issues in the market. Stuart agreed to meet with Martin and they did meet," was all he would say. The proposal is also not finding favour among the leading Linux vendors. Red Hat, Inc. spokeswoman Leigh Day, in Raleigh, N.C., told eWEEK that Red Hat had no interest in seeing any such initiative with Microsoft, adding that she was not sure how a joint venture with the Redmond, Wash. software firm could ever be independent. Red Hat also believed that funded research was typically not objective. "We disagree with the idea of using 'research' as a tool to create FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] in the marketplace. Instead we use real-world customer testimonials instead of lab-created, situations to demonstrate the price, performance, scalability and security of Linux," she said. Microsoft executives are now also increasingly admitting that Linux and open-source software is one of its main competitive threats. At its annual financial analysts day held at the Redmond campus last month, Kevin Johnson, the group vice president of Microsoft's worldwide sales, marketing and services group, gave a 40-minute presentation entitled "Competing and Winning Around Linux." And, in a recent interview with eWEEK, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that, on the competitive front, in addition to Google and Yahoo, Linux remains among the most significant challengers Microsoft faces. Ballmer also said that he believed that the religious war between Linux and Windows was over and the battle now was about which offers customers the best technology solution. Conceding that Linux holds the upper hand in areas such as Web hosting, Ballmer stressed that Microsoft is doing all it can to change that. Asked about Microsoft's recent moves to meet with open-source executives and the taming of its anti-Linux rhetoric, Red Hat's Day said this was proof that Linux had become a standard platform and a major competitive threat. But Microsoft's Taylor disagrees that funded research is not useful, saying that a discussion on facts and independent data is always a benefit to the industry. "As much as Microsoft might get billed as being anti-Linux, that's actually not the case. I just want people to judge technology on its merit versus on hype and emotion. It helps all of us build better products and respond to customer needs more effectively," Taylor said. As the commercialization of Linux played out even more, customers are going to require that type of research data. "I actually have customers even now asking for analysis on Linux. While we have done some in our Linux and open-source Lab for internal purposes, there is nothing substantial out there," he said. Asked what Microsoft's motives were for suggesting such a move and offering to jointly fund it, Taylor said "because I want to know the facts. I want people to see the facts for how they truly are. If we did this, some of the research would be good for us and some of it bad for us, just like all the other studies we do. I think they just help with the dialogue. "Success for us isn't that Linux goes away. Success for us is getting past all the hype and emotion and where people choose technology on its merits," he said. UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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