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LinuXology

Microsoft Tries to Deter Consumers from Using Linux

Chris Egle

An Answer to Microsoft's Incorrect Statement

Responding to substantial growth in the acceptance of the Linux operating system for servers and personal use, Microsoft issued a white paper as an attack on the world's most successful alternative to the Windows operating system. By resorting to and depending upon a host of rumors and half-truths, Microsoft embarked upon a defamation campaign intended to decelerate the proliferation of Linux among professional users. "This is reminiscent of the blacksmiths who tried to stop the victory of the automobile," remarks Roland Dyroff, Chairman of the Executive Board of SuSE Linux AG, regarding this latest attempt of software giant Microsoft's futile effort to impede the further distribution of the free operating system Linux.

The white paper entitled "Linux in Retail & Hospitality - What Every Retailer Should Know" caused a lot of commotion during the past few days. For its own reasons, Microsoft decided to remove the document listing ten alleged disadvantages of the Open Source operating system, Linux, from Microsoft's German website.

Microsoft says:

"Despite popular belief in the retail and hospitality markets, the Linux operating system is not free. The Linux kernel itself may be free, but there are many other costs associated with the total cost of ownership of the system. There are significant costs associated with "retail-hardening" Linux. Even Linux executives admit that Linux isn't free, but that you just pay in different ways. Linux especially has a long way to go in retail, and someone is going to bear these costs."

The truth:

Both, operating system Linux itself, as well as many applications can be deployed on an unlimited number of systems free of license fees by enterprises and private users. The price of about $50 covers the composition of more than 2,000 Linux programs, the easy-to-use installation and administration tools, the production of CDs and DVDs, the manuals, and the free installation support.

Microsoft says:

1. Limited Device Driver Support
"Very few device drivers are available for Linux today, especially those used in retail environments. The JavaPOS standard is still in the early stages and has not been proven like the OPOS standard. In fact, most JavaPOS installations today run on Windows with OPOS and a Java OPOS wrapper. JavaPOS has a long way to go before it can provide the same device driver support as OPOS provides. The cost of developing retail device drivers is a huge consideration in total cost of ownership. Someone is going to have to pay to develop them for retail. The Microsoft platform is years ahead of Linux in meeting the retail industry's needs and provides an extensive set of device drivers."

The truth:

In accordance with the increased market importance of Linux, most hardware manufacturers provide new drivers for Windows and for SuSE Linux. This also applies to the example of the POS hardware: a search for the keywords "point of sale" and "Linux" in the Google search engine produces about 16,000 hits, including companies like ViewTouch and Linux Canada Inc., which have specialized in the field of POS in Linux.

Microsoft says:

2. Support/Maintenance Costs
"Support and maintenance for Linux are not free. Most Linux distributors make their money by selling their services. Support options vary by vendor and can get quite expensive for the enterprise. You will have to pay for support when you need it. However, before you can even receive support, you have to meet certain requirements. Most Linux distributors will only support un-modified versions of their software. Some of them also require you to meet certain hardware requirements before they will support you. Microsoft has a much more advanced support system in place to aid you when you need help."

The truth:

Apart from the installation support, which is already included in the purchase price of the SuSE Products, SuSE also offers advanced support within the framework of support agreements.

Tiered support offerings enable companies to select a suitable service from a multitude of options - ranging from individual inquiries (call packs) to 24/7 support for mission-critical applications, see http://support.suse.de/en/services/productive-level.html for details.

With its range of high-quality consulting and implementation services, training, and support, SuSE offers a one-stop solution to enterprise customers such as Edeka, Miele, and Meica. These support solutions are based on a full array of IT services at competitive rates.

Does Microsoft make money from its support structure? Of course, it does. In April 2001, Microsoft discovered the profitability of service business and responded by organizing a total of 13,000 employees for this purpose. The head of the new business unit, Robert McDowell, who spent some twelve years with Microsoft, commented on the question why this step had not been taken earlier: "To be frank, the product set and its technical merit to offer a good platform alternative at the higher end is a recent offering for us."

Microsoft says:

3. Numerous Installation Versions
"There are over 188 different distributions of Linux available today with the number growing all the time. You have to first decide which distribution and graphical user interface to use. Next, you have to deal with the limitations. For example, there is no guarantee that any software you develop on one distribution will run under another distribution. Nor is it guaranteed, or even likely, that an application you develop for one GUI will run under a different GUI, even on the same distribution. You do not have this problem with Microsoft's platform, since there are only a few different versions, all with a common user interface."

The truth:

Under the patronage of the Free Standards Group, leading Linux providers such as SuSE, Caldera, Corel, Debian, Red Hat and TurboLinux and leading IT companies such as IBM, SAP, SGI, and Sun work on uniform standards that ensure compatibility among the various Linux versions.

Actually, Microsoft's criticism should be self-directed at this particular point because a high degree of incompatibility (especially in the field of hardware drivers!) between Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and the newly announced Windows XP cause an abundance of frustration on the part of Windows users.

Microsoft says:

4. Lack Of Available Software
"Software for the Linux operating system has a long way to go. There are not very many well-known or enterprise-wide software packages available for Linux today, especially for POS. There is also a huge void on the Linux platform in server side software, such as database, message queuing services, and transaction servers. The present limitations of software for the front end, middle tier, and server on Linux represent additional costs you need to factor into your TCO model. You do not face this limitation with the Microsoft platform, which has thousands of products available to create a complete end-to-end solution."

The truth:

In early February, Nomina AG, Munich (Germany), listed more than 1,400 Linux solutions in its database. This includes all leading databases such as Oracle, IBM DB2, Informix, Sybase, and ADABAS D, as well as the leading middleware solution, Lotus Domino. Even complex ERP solutions like my.SAP.com and Oracle Apps are available for the Linux platform.

Additionally, a large number of royalty-free applications that enjoy worldwide recognition are available for deployment as server operating system and desktop. For example, more than 60% of all web pages in the world are hosted on the Open Source web server, Apache, compared to less than 20% on Microsoft IIS. See the Netcraft site for details.

Microsoft says:

5. Untested Waters In Retail
"Linux has a long way to go in retail and hospitality. Very few retailers run Linux today. POS and other application vendors are going to pass the cost along to you for "retail-hardening" Linux.".

The truth:

In the first stage, it is of secondary importance whether e.g. a vehicle is employed for commercial purposes. The actual issue is whether the basic technology - in this example, the engine - functions smoothly and reliably.

SuSE Linux is appreciated by an increasing number of enterprises of different sizes and in various sectors. Linux is already operating reliably in numerous Intranet, department, and Internet servers. Furthermore, SuSE Linux now increasingly permeates complex, mission-critical application areas in large-scale enterprises. This notion is shared by the users, too: according to a representative survey conducted by EMNID, 46% of the Linux users regarded "stability" as a forte of their platform, while only 13% of the Windows users maintained this standpoint regarding their system.

Convenient user interfaces and a surging number of applications increase the popularity of SuSE Linux as desktop operating system in companies.

Microsoft says:

6. Lack Of Formal Development Schedule, Research, and Standards
"With Linux, no formal development schedule or set of standards exists. There are thousands of developers contributing to it from all over the world, with no accountability to the retail industry. Linus Torvalds makes the final decision about what gets included in the latest Linux release, and he has no accountability to the retail industry. There is no formal research and development process with Linux. Microsoft plans to spend over $4 billion in R&D in 2001 and listens to the retail industry."

The truth:

This point should read: Microsoft has no unilateral control. It sets the standards for everyone, developers and customers, who work with Windows. To the benefit of all industries, Linux is founded upon contribution from thousands of people around the world, as opposed to one megalith determining how everyone will work within the Microsoft framework. Notably, the Open Source concept has paved the way for a great number of developers - from dozens back in 1991 to tens of thousands today - to contribute to the further development of Linux with their wide array of specialized know-how. The result: as of 1998 and 1999, Linux continued to be the fastest-growing server operating system in 2000. According to the latest figures by IDC (International Data Corporation), Linux accounts for 27% of all server operating systems worldwide although Windows still leads with a market share of 41 percent.

As can be expected, Microsoft is not very enthusiastic about this development; after all, this means that part of the income from software licenses, which amounted to more than $20 billion in 1999 (source: The Economist, April 2001), is in danger.

IBM further accelerates the speedy development of Linux; in February, the corporation announced its decision to invest $330 million in customer service for the establishment of Linux infrastructures during the course of the next three years. In Europe alone, IBM plans to spend $200 million to test Linux applications in labs especially established for this purpose.

Microsoft says:

7. Less Secure
"`Open source' means that anyone can get a copy of the source code. Developers can find security weaknesses very easily with Linux. The same is not true with Microsoft Windows."

The truth:

Users say something completely different; for 24% of the Linux users, security is an asset of their system, while only 6% of the Windows users are satisfied with the security of their operating system.

The transparency of the Linux system usually enables the detection and elimination of security holes in the development stage. Due to the open source code, the solutions for any remaining security bugs are often made available for free download from the Internet within a few hours after they are spotted. In fact, if Microsoft could spend the development time to have thousands of independent agents testing for Windows' security flaws, the operating system would be more secure like Linux. Meeting the delivery demands of a proprietary operating system makes this open examination impossible.

The Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) in Germany supports this viewpoint and encourages companies to employ Open Source software in order to make their IT infrastructure more secure: "The advantage of Open Source is that the software source code is completely open and can therefore be checked. This contributes to a marked increase in IT security".

What is more: a new worm attacking Microsoft-based web servers was detected only recently, on May 8; the following day another security bug was discovered in Windows 2000.

Microsoft says:

8. Increased Labor Costs
"You will have to spend extra money training your staff on a new environment. Store clerks will have to be trained on a new user interface that they are not likely to be familiar with already, and developers will have to be trained in a new development environment. It will be less costly to train staff on the Microsoft Windows user interface and the development environment because so many people are already familiar with them."

The truth:

Medium and large-scale companies and/or their service providers usually have many years of experience with UNIX systems, resulting in an extensive know-how. The common origins of these two operating systems and identical or similar commands and file structures facilitate a smooth migration to Linux. Point of fact, most POS interfaces are by necessity extremely simplistic. They do not require Windows GUI.

In contrast, the latest migration from Windows NT to Windows 2000, and the upcoming migration from Windows 2000 to Windows XP are sure to cause a considerable training load for the user and a profitable business for Microsoft.

Microsoft says:

9. Limited Developer Tools
"There are limited developer tools available for Linux. Those that are available are much more difficult to use than Microsoft Visual Studio. Thus, the same application can take much longer to develop for Linux."

The truth:

Apart from a great variety of free development tools, there are also a number of commercial tools for Linux (e.g. from the sector leader Borland), which are also available for Windows. Thus, applications for both Linux and Windows can be generated from one program code.

Microsoft says:

10. Business Agility in the Future
"Businesses must have the agility to quickly adapt to changing market conditions. There is a lot of uncertainty concerning the future of Linux. Microsoft is a stable company offering a reliable long-term solution.
At the point your organization begins to investigate Linux, conduct your own research in the above areas to get a good idea of your total cost of ownership. You will then be in a position to make an educated decision about the best path for your enterprise. You will see that Linux is far from free. You will also see for yourself why the Microsoft platform can actually have a lower total cost of ownership in the long run. And you won't make the mistake of thinking that Linux is free."

The truth:

The main reason for the success of Linux is its high quality, i.e. the system stability, performance, and security, rather than merely the absence of license fees. In its current information booklet on "Alternative Operating Systems - A Guideline for Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises" (in German), which can be downloaded from the BMWI website or requested free of charge, the German Federal Ministry for Economy and Technology demonstrates how the deployment of Linux pays for professional environments. When you examine the Microsoft platform, ask them how many dollars are spent on downtime and costs of returning Windows systems to operational levels. Total Cost of Ownership is about complete systems including the operating system. Businesses have a choice to choose one company that dictates what customers can and cannot do or an open environment that is supported by most of the major IT companies in the world. You can have one company's expertise or you can have the expertise of hundreds.

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