Ballmer Blasts Off On Linux

Windows server platform

"Does an open-source platform really provide a long-term cost advantage compared with Windows?" Ballmer asks at the top of the e-mail message. Clearly, he thinks not, citing study after study -- some of which Microsoft commissioned -- that he says show Windows to have a lower total cost of ownership than current commercialized versions of Linux, such as Red Hat's. A number of factors make Linux more expensive over time, he claims, including training for IT employees and the fees that Linux distributors such as Red Hat and Novell now charge for technical support services, warranties and licensing indemnification.

Ballmer then attempts to debunk every other major benefit the industry has ascribed to Linux. For one, he argues that the Windows Server platform -- contrary to popular opinion -- is more secure than Linux. He also contends that customers are taking an inherent risk in choosing Linux because of the potential for intellectual property legal claims to be foisted upon them. Regal Entertainment Group, a major movie theater chain, evaluated Red Hat Linux in 2001, but later migrated to Windows Server in part because of concerns about the legal risk associated with Linux, the memo states.

Microsoft, on the other hand, Ballmer says, indemnifies all of its customers against such legal challenges to its software IP.

"We do this because we are proud to stand behind our products, and because we understand that being on the wrong end of a software patent lawsuit could cost a customer millions of dollars, and massively disrupt their business," he writes.

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Perhaps most interesting, Ballmer says Windows servers increasingly are the more attractive option for customers looking to migrate their ERP installations off proprietary Unix systems. To date, most of the Linux installations (now estimated to be about one-fourth of all new server deployments) have come at the expense of Unix, not Windows. But Ballmer cites a recent Meta Group report that calls Windows "now a mainstream option for the vast majority of ERP projects." According to the memo, Meta Group reached this conclusion based on its survey of organizations that had completed an SAP or PeopleSoft software migration from a Unix platform to Windows.

This week's memo provides an even greater indication that Microsoft considers Linux, and open-source software in general, a serious risk to its own franchise. For many years, Ballmer and company ignored -- at least publicly -- the platform, but in the past year or so have aggressively mounted a "Get the Facts" campaign to slap down contentions that Linux is cheaper over the long haul, more secure and/or better performing.