Microsoft: Linux debate needs to be 'more rational'

Tech Ed: Despite some high-profile European moves to open source, Microsoft is bullish about its prospects within the market

Microsoft has dismissed high-profile European government defections to Linux, such as the city of Munich, but admitted Europe will be a key battleground in the ongoing Windows versus Linux war.

Speaking to ZDNet UK's sister site at the Tech Ed 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 US-based multinationals.

"What we have in Europe is a different situation to the US. We have a better job to do explaining and demonstrating the added value Microsoft has as a local company," he 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 US. 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 eleventh hour to try and save the deal with the Mayor of Munich. His effort failed and after a year-long trial, the city of Munich is due to begin its full open-source rollout in July.

The UK government is currently evaluating Linux in several pilot projects with IBM and Sun and the French government has also 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 Irish bank AIB opted to ditch Microsoft for Sun's Java Desktop System. Dumont said the fact 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 having opted to deploy the latest version of Microsoft Office.

Dumont also admitted that more customers are using Linux to try and get deeper discounts on Microsoft products, but said 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 over Windows Media Player, Dumont reiterated Microsoft's determination to fight the EC's 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."