Microsoft FUD squad targets competition

Their job is to watch the Linux, Unix and NetWare competition. But some rivals claim that spreading FUD is part of Doug Miller & Co.'s job, too

Oracle executives are embarking on a "Java's not dead" tour next week. And Oracle is crediting -- or, more appropriately, discrediting -- archrival Microsoft for creating the need for such a roadshow.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to offer specifics but said that in the face of anti-Java propaganda generated by Microsoft, Oracle decided to educate people about the benefits of XML and Java.

Oracle isn't the only one calling foul. Developers participating in a number of Java user groups also have been swapping stories about misinformation that they said is being spread by Microsoft. Rumors have been circulating among e-integrators and Microsoft partners that Sun Microsystems has ceased all development on client-side Java, a claim that Sun denies.

Microsoft, for its part, did not respond by press time to questions on whether it's stirring the Java FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) pot.

But no one, Microsoft included, would dispute charges that the Redmond, Washington, software giant is a fierce competitor. Microsoft's hardball tactics are at the heart of a number of legal cases in which it has been embroiled in the past few years.

In fact, there are a number of teams throughout Microsoft whose primary missions are to study and take on the competition.

Microsoft Group Product Manager Doug Miller leads one such team -- designated the competition and interoperability strategies unit within Microsoft's IT infrastructure and hosting solutions group. Miller and his colleagues market Microsoft's NT/Windows 2000 add-on Services For Unix product, as well as its comparable Services for NetWare product.

But more importantly, Miller & Co. spend much of their time and energy watching the Unix vendors, Linux vendors and Novell, all players that go head-to-head against Microsoft in the server operating system space.

They research competitive products and strategies. They attend and participate in trade shows sponsored by other organisations and vendors. They test drive tools and operating systems, including Linux. And they help craft strategies for combating Microsoft's rivals.

"We probably have more Linux users internally at Microsoft than almost anyone else does anywhere else," Miller boasted. "The best way to know a product is to run it.

"We take Linux very seriously," Miller continued. But so far, at least, Microsoft hasn't seen enough customer demand on the client side to merit porting its Office suite to Linux, he said.

Miller, who headed SunSoft's European operations eight years ago, was CEO of Softway Systems, a vendor of Unix-NT interoperability software. Microsoft purchased Softway outright in September 1999.

At one point recently, Microsoft had 80 people watching Sun Microsystems, Miller acknowledged. Because Sun competes against Microsoft on so many fronts -- server and desktop operating systems, desktop office suites, tools, and services -- Microsoft had to marshal a number of its competitive teams to work on particular Sun-related campaigns and projects.

What has Microsoft learned from its Solaris and Linux studies? "On the technical side, we don't see anything in Linux that's blowing the doors off," Miller said. "Mostly, they (open-source vendors) are just copying Microsoft and/or Unix world stuff.

"One thing that's missing with Linux," Miller continued, "is it's not customer-focused enough. In all of these new alliances we've seen in recent months, where is the customer?"

And on Sun: "They have some good products and technologies. But there is arrogance in the way they treat their customers. And there is slowness in getting their technologies moved forward."

But Microsoft is learning a thing or two from the missteps of its Unix and Linux competitors, Miller said.

"We realise we need to understand what our customers like and, based on that, where we need to make changes to our products and our business models," he noted.

Miller said that some of the changes Microsoft is making to the way it charges for software as part of its .Net software-as-service plan are attributable to "value-based pricing" pressures brought to bear by its rivals.

But don't look for Microsoft to espouse open-source development principles. The bottom line for Microsoft, according to Miller: "We are a commercial software company, not a free software company."

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