How to talk to Microsoft about Linux

Visiting one of Microsoft's open-source seminars during the next few weeks? Here's a print-out-and-keep guide to questions you might care to ask...

Microsoft has opened up a new front against Linux with a series of events around Britain in which UK companies are invited to take part in what the company calls 'an open and honest technology discussion' about open-source software.

ZDNet UK met with senior Microsoft executives at the first of the '20:20 Seminar Series' and would encourage IT managers and directors to get along to one of the remaining three events (which are being held in Edinburgh, Manchester and Newport - full details below).

To encourage an open and honest debate, we've compiled a list of questions that emerged from the first meeting. If you can't make it to one of the 20:20 events, perhaps you could put them to the next Microsoft salesman you speak to.

1: Total cost of ownership
Microsoft is vulnerable to the claim that deploying Linux must be cheaper than Windows because it charges a licence fee for Windows while open-source software is, well, free. It now points to research conducted by IDC in 2002 that found that systems running on open-source software can cost more than Windows in terms of service and management costs over the lifetime of their deployment. You might ask:

When Microsoft says that choosing open-source software is "by no means a certain way of lowering whole lifetime costs", does that claim include projections for the damage that will be caused by vulnerabilities and security holes in Windows that haven't yet been discovered?

2: Support and maintenance
Microsoft is also keen to point out that there are more than 450,000 Microsoft Certified Software Engineers worldwide, which it says means a better support network than is possible with Linux. If you think there's a lack of support in the open-source community, you might ask:

Can Microsoft cite an example of a Linux project that was delayed because of a shortage of staff?

3: Interoperability
Microsoft says that Windows is a great choice for desktops because it supports an 'ecosystem' of desktop applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and fits well with Microsoft's server software. However, many open-source applications also work perfectly well as replacements to Microsoft's own apps. Some experts say that deploying these programs can be a good first step in a long-term migration to Linux. You might ask:

Why shouldn't I replace Microsoft Office with Open Office, or Internet Explorer with Mozilla? Won't this work as an excellent first step towards full-scale open source deployment, given Microsoft's commitment to openness and interoperability?

4: Deal cost
Journalists who attended last week's 20:20 Seminar Series Event were presented with a long list of 'customer success stories' -- examples of companies who have recently chosen to deploy Microsoft software.

One of these was the London Borough of Newham, which has upgraded its desktop and server infrastructure. After a long consultation process, Newham eventually decided that Microsoft offered better value than open source.

Microsoft is trumpeting this win, claiming that Newham may make double the productivity savings than if it had chosen Linux instead.

Informed sources have alleged that Microsoft may have offered the Borough an uncharacteristically generous package, including a substantial amount of free consultancy, to sweeten the deal. There's even a theory that the real lesson is that if you can make Microsoft believe that you're genuinely considering Linux, you'll get a much better deal. One Microsoft executive even admitted to us last week that more companies are using this tactic You might ask:

If I come to Microsoft and say that I'm going to abandon Windows, what kind of incentives will you be able to offer me to make me stay? Is this why Microsoft is so reluctant to discuss its pricing policies?

Click here to read more about this issue.

5. Security
Sasser, Wallon, Netsky, Bagel, MyDoom, Nachi: just some of the security threats faced by users of Microsoft software this year. Despite this avalanche of worms, viruses and Trojans, Microsoft is keen to maintain that security is not just a problem for Windows.

A recent report published by Forrester Research calculated how quickly Microsoft issues patches after vulnerabilities are found in its software, and compared this to the performance of Linux vendors. Forrester found that Microsoft was much quicker at releasing fixes than Red Hat, Debian, SuSE and MandrakeSoft. Click here to read a .pdf of the original Forrester research, and here to read the response of the Linux vendors.

If Microsoft cites this as proof that Windows is a more secure option, you might point out that 67 percent of Microsoft's vulnerabilities were classified as high-severity, compared to 56 percent for Red Hat. Or, you might ask:

How many of the viruses that have hit the Internet this year have taken advantage of vulnerabilities in Linux?

The 20:20 Seminar Series continues…

…with events at the Caledonian Hilton Hotel, Edinburgh on the morning of 17 June, at the City of Manchester Stadium on 29 June, and at Celtic Manor, Newport on 7 July.

More details can be seen here.