War of words greets Microsoft's UK anti-Linux campaign

Microsoft is about to launch an anti-Linux advertising blitz. While the software giant says research shows that its operating system is actually cheaper, Linux companies say the campaign simply proves how good the open-source operating system is

Microsoft will launch a marketing campaign against Linux in the UK on Monday, aiming to convince companies thinking about moving to the open-source operating system that Windows is a cheaper option in the long run; but Linux vendors say Microsoft's campaign validates Linux as a serious competitor.

As part of its multi-million dollar "Get The Facts" advertising campaign, which was launched in the US earlier this month, Microsoft will direct users to visit a section on its Web site containing reports that were carried out by independent analysts. However, all the research was either carried out on behalf of, or commissioned by, software giant.

Red Hat spokeswoman Leigh Day told ZDNet UK that the company uses customer references rather than reports that examine "specific situations" to demonstrate financial savings: "We're not giving too much credence to this ad campaign. Our customers have heard from other references the intrinsic values of open source. This is giving Linux validation as an ideal alternative to proprietary providers," she said.

Jasmin Ul-Haque, director of marketing communications at SuSE Linux, agreed that Microsoft must be worried to be attacking Linux in this way and called for an "impartial" study: "You don't attack something unless you have some sort of concern abut it. We would request more even-handed research," she said.

But Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft UK, said the reports are unbiased and "reflective of market conditions". According to McGrath: "The results of each of the studies we commission can go either way. The analyst reports commissioned by Microsoft have been transparent in the scope of their methodology and assertions."

The advertising campaign is the first from Microsoft to take on Linux directly, analysts say, and it illustrates the company's effort to protect its interests, such as growing revenue from server system sales. Microsoft faces a potential decline in new customers if businesses are lured by Linux's lower-cost licensing fees compared with its own, which are in the hundreds of dollars.

"Microsoft is counting on picking up businesses migrating from Unix [to another operating system] for its next two years of growth in that area, and Linux is somewhat throwing a wrench in that plan," said Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that tracks the software giant's business strategy. "This is squarely aimed at companies considering Linux on servers."

SuSE's Ul-Haque said that if customers want to migrate from Unix, Linux is the natural choice because there will be less of a learning curve: "When migrating from Unix to Linux, customers already have the skills in-house," she added.

CNET News.com’s Stefanie Olsen contributed to this report