Microsoft aims to mute open-source 'noise' in Europe

Microsoft dismisses European government defections to open source, but acknowledges the continent will be a key battleground between Windows and Linux.

Microsoft has dismissed high-profile European government defections to open source, but acknowledged that Europe will be a key battleground between Windows and Linux.

Speaking to Silicon.com at the TechEd 2004 conference in Amsterdam this week, Microsoft's European general manager, Philippe Dumont, said there are cultural reasons for some governments wanting to limit dependency on U.S.-based multinationals.

"What we have in Europe is a different situation to the U.S. We have a better job to do explaining and demonstrating the added value Microsoft has as a local company," Dumont said. "We need to make sure we have less of these emotional debates around a move to Linux and open source creating independence from the U.S. We need to get back into more of a rational discussion about what is the cost of running Linux and open source."

Europe has seen arguably the most high-profile Linux switch, with Steve Ballmer famously flying in at the 11th hour to try to save a deal with the mayor of Munich, Germany. Ballmer's effort failed, and after a yearlong trial, the city of Munich is due to begin its full open-source rollout in July.

The U.K. government is evaluating Linux in several pilot projects with IBM and Sun Microsystems, and the French government this month threatened to switch to open source as part of a cost-cutting drive.

But Dumont said the defections are limited to a few high-profile contracts. "That kind of thinking is by a few people who make a lot of noise," he said. "In reality there are very few cases."

This week, however, saw a private-sector switch when the Allied Irish Bank opted to ditch Microsoft for Sun's Java Desktop System. Dumont said the fact that the bank was running an old version of Microsoft's software was a key factor in the switch. He called it a "one-off" and said many other banks already have opted to deploy the latest version of Microsoft Office.

Dumont also acknowledged that more customers are using Linux to try to get deeper discounts on Microsoft products. He added that it is a "fair" negotiating tactic.

"It shows competition is alive and well," he said. "On one side, we're fairly confident we've never abused our dominant position to increase prices. At the same time, if customers can find a solution that is more cost-effective, they should shout about it. It's a fair game, and we do the same when we go to competitor accounts."

Speaking about the European Commission's antitrust ruling on Windows Media Player, Dumont reiterated Microsoft's determination to fight regulators' call for an unbundled version of Windows.

"We would have preferred to have it behind us, and that is why we worked so hard to settle and try to meet the Commission's requirements," he said. "Fragmenting the platform is not something in our mind that resolves anything."

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

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