Microsoft on warding off the Linux threat

Q&A: Microsoft's head of platform strategy denies that open source is a credible threat to the software giant's empire, and rules out porting MS Office to Linux
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Nick McGrath, Microsoft's head of platform strategy, is at the spearhead of the software giant's attempts to head off the open source danger.

Having helped launched both NT4 and XP into the UK, the 15-year Microsoft veteran now concentrates on combating the threat posed by organisations migrating to Linux.

But, with an almost mockingly dismissive opinion of the opportunities brought about by Linux, McGrath is insistent that Microsoft is not losing ground. Instead he claims that Microsoft is winning key corporate and public sector deals on the critical battlegrounds of cost and security.

Q: As the man responsible for seeing off the Linux threat at Microsoft UK, how do you see the open source challenge today?
A: In a word — maturing. The Linux community is commercialising a lot. But we have learnt a lot from the open source community — our approach is now a lot more open. We have set up a Linux laboratory in Microsoft so we can understand customers' challenges around interoperability.

Presumably you accept that there is more Linux in businesses than a few years ago?
No, I don't accept that at all. I don't see people moving towards Linux — I see people moving away from Unix. We have an end-to-end solution unlike Linux, which is a point-to-point solution. In the Linux environment you end up buying a very specific solution for a point need. [But] will there be one operating system that everyone uses? No.

Let's look at some of the big battleground deals in which you have come up against Linux. The City of Munich Government is one. In September they started to deploy Linux on the desktop...
We continue to work with them, and we respect the decision they've made. Other councils have looked at it, like Bergen, and chose to delay because they felt it was not a cost-effective solution on the desktop [Bergen, though, told ZDNet UK that the project may yet be carried out].

Look at Central Scotland Police. They were looking at Linux on the desktop. But when it came to the flexibility to deploy applications and centralised management updating, they are migrating away from Linux to Windows.

One of the controversial battlegrounds is the London Borough of Newham, which went with Microsoft.
Yes, they carried out an evaluation of Linux and an evaluation of Microsoft.

Many critics say Newham only evaluated Linux as a means to get discounts from Microsoft.
We don't look at it that way. Newham did a lot of evaluating Linux. From a TCO perspective, a security perspective, a reliability perspective and an interoperability perspective, it was found that after doing the study [which has been criticised] that our platform was the most suitable. The Linux platform doesn't offer the integrated nature from an applications point of view that Newham needed.

So did you give discounts to Newham?
We did not change the pricing for Newham. The pricing was the same that everyone that buys through the Office of Government Commerce agreement pays.

There are several key arguments as to whether Microsoft or open source is preferable for any one organisation. The first one is often price. And of course a critical argument is that Linux can be free. It's difficult to beat that.
You might get a free car from your uncle. But you're the one who ends up with the mechanical bills. It can be cheaper to buy a new car and get the guarantees. Then there are the costs of deploying Linux engineers.

Interoperability is surely a key factor.
Yes of course. You have to make sure the platform has the appropriate connectors. There is the issue of driver availability if you move towards the Linux platform. Windows has tens of thousands of drivers. Then there is ease of use. There are multiple management tools needed to manage the Linux environment. You don't have a single complete management solution.

What about security? Windows has more vulnerabilities than Linux.
I disagree. Look at the Forrester Days of Risk report [which found that Microsoft takes an average of 25 days to patch a flaw, compared to Red Hat's 57]. We fix the problems faster.

But Microsoft vulnerabilities are generally more severe though.

Most are fairly severe.
There will always be a case where Microsoft, Novell, RedHat will have to produce updates. But I have seen a significant decline [in vulnerabilities].

When will you be enabling Microsoft Office to run on open source?
We won't. We have no plans.

We are commmitted to the Windows platform. There are many alternatives to Microsoft Office on the Linux platform. It's all about flexibility and choice in that regard. We have a very successful product on the Mac side of things.

What is the sense in producing Office for the Mac and not Office for open source?
The Mac product is produced by Apple. If changes are needed then we'll work with Apple. They are just one organisation. We have an agreement which makes good business sense.

Are you unwilling to produce a Linux version of Office because you would need to work with several Linux distributors?
I don't know in that regard. If people want to run Office then buy Windows. Or a Mac.

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