Are Microsoft Partners Spreading Open-Source Fear?

So it wouldn't be a huge surprise if recent reports of Certified Microsoft Professionals and their companies spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about open-source software were true. In a discussion on Slashdot earlier this week, community member Smidge207 reported a "huge push" in this type of activity and suggested it might be part of a coordinated campaign.

According to the Slashdot report, Microsoft partners are identifying companies that use open-source software, and then calling these firms and warning them of the dangers of using free software in their networks, in an effort ostensibly aimed at getting them to embrace Microsoft software. Microsoft says it hasn't heard of this happening, and a spokesperson declined to comment.

Is Microsoft siccing its legions of loyal partners on the security reputation of open-source software? If so, it would contradict Microsoft's recent steps toward a rapprochement with the open-source community. But it also would be difficult to trace Microsoft's involvement in such a campaign.

Despite the potential intrigue of a proxy war, many solution providers say this is probably just a case of overzealous Microsoft partners acting independently.

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"I don't think Microsoft would be so dumb as to direct or encourage partners to do this," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner in Fresno, Calif. "It's simply another byproduct of this incredibly difficult economy, and a desperate response by some folks to find every potential sale."

Microsoft has actively moved away from denigrating open source to a more nuanced approach that incorporates and integrates open source as necessary to support Microsoft initiatives, according to Bernard Golden, CEO of Hyperstratus, a San Carlos, Calif.-based solution provider. For example, the Windows Server team actively works with projects like PHP, JBoss and MySQL to ensure that these products run well on Windows.

"This seems quite strange from the point of view of the Microsoft partners. Don't they have enough to do rather than calling people up out of the blue to criticize open source? Frankly, it smacks of desperation," Golden said.

John Locke, principal consultant at Freelock Computing, an open-source consultancy, says this sales tactic might pay off for Microsoft partners in the short term, but companies often find that scare tactics end up backfiring on them.

"No serious security professional will tell you a system is more secure just because you don't know how it's built," Locke said. "It's hard to see how outright lying to customers leads to more sales in the long run, especially when it's so easy to dispel."

Criticism of the security of open source may have been more valid a decade ago, but today, Apache and the Linux stack are ubiquitous in the industry and run some of the largest online retail operations in existence, noted Greg Hanchin, principal for Denver-based security solution provider Dirsec.

"Open source is just another common piece of infrastructure; it's almost like Internet Protocol at this point," Hanchin said.