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Lou's Views: Playing Hardball with Microsoft

Candidate Tux vs. The Man

  • February 27, 2001
  • By Lou Grinzo
There's been no lack of outrage in the Linux and open source arenas lately over Microsoft's actions, particularly some of Ji m Allchin's recent statements regarding the "threat" of open source or GPL'd software or whatever it was he was really talking about. Every time I see the Linux and open/free source supporters getting all huffed up about this incident or Microsoft's ongoing FUD war against Linux, I have to laugh. Not because it's just so much silliness from Microsoft (which it is), but because it doesn't even scratch the surface of what they're capable of and routinely do. Microsoft is not only far better at this game than you imagine, they're far better at it than you can imagine.

Since this tussle between Linux and Windows is now largely a PR battle for the minds and hearts of the vast ocean of computer users, let's look at the situation in political terms. Imagine your candidate, Tux, wants to run for some fairly high office in the US, perhaps governor of a large state. Tux is extremely well educated, pure of heart, compassionate about helping people and making government more effective and efficient, and has not the slightest trace of political baggage--there's literally not a single skeleton in his closet. But he's hampered by very meager funding, almost no campaigning experience, and far less name recognition than his main opponent, the incumbent, Billion Dollar Bill, a.k.a. BDB. What's worse, BDB and his staff have almost unlimited funds and vast experience in running and winning big campaigns, sometimes by integrity-challenged means. Not only does our guy Tux have to deal with BDB's obvious public moves, like his massive use of media ads, including negative campaigning, but he also has to worry about BDB's political connections and other, more creative and secretive, ways to spend money. If you think Tux has much of chance in the election, you obviously know just about zippo about the American political system.

(To those who take metaphors too seriously and love to fire off angry e-mail: I'm not suggesting that Linux's chances of making serious inroads beyond the server and embedded segments are this grim. There are significant differences between this political fable and the OS market; my point is that like our mythical Tux, Linux is facing a lot more serious threat from Microsoft than the silliness we've been consumed with. So put down that e-mail client and keep reading, OK?)

Want specifics? How about this: A couple of weeks ago I received an unsolicited magazine in the mail, a copy of something called eDirections: Enterprise Solutions for the Digital Age. I had never heard of the magazine, but it was very obviously a big-budget operation--it was printed on high-quality glossy paper with excellent use of photography and typography. I noticed that several of the article blurbs on the cover mentioned Microsoft products, but there wasn't a hint of a "should you be using Linux"-style article, which seemed odd, given what a pressing question this is today for this publication's intended audience. Flipping through the magazine I noticed that three of the six feature articles had author bios at the end indicating that the author's name was really a pseudonym. I can tell you without hesitation that this is very weird; a technical writer has nothing to sell but his or her reputation, so we aggressively collect resume bullets and use them whenever and wherever possible. And that means that anonymous writing is a waste of time, not to mention being very suspicious.

The masthead says that this is an IDG publication (technically it's produced by CXO Communications, an IDG subsidiary, although CXO doesn't mention this magazine on their web site). I e-mailed Lisa Chaffin, who's listed as the Project Manager for this publication, and I asked her if eDirections was funded by Microsoft, since I knew they'd done that in the past, and why some of the authors were anonymous. Her response, in its entirety, was:

Thank you for your interest in the magazine. Microsoft produces the magazine on a spontaneous basis, so there is no set schedule, more based on their current needs. This is the second edition we just completed. As far as the writers, they have not offered why they always use their pseudonyms. Perhaps for competitive reasons with other clients they have, who could be Microsoft competitors? Microsoft is financing the publication and often companies who do projects like this invite their partners to advertise to offset costs.

Fascinating. It's an entire magazine funded by Microsoft, with no indication of this anywhere in the publication that I could find. And they're mailing it out free to business people who will no doubt make the obvious assumption, that this is a "real", independent magazine, and not an expensive and extremely well-crafted PR piece. For the record, the content of the magazine wasn't blatantly pro-Microsoft; it discussed solving many of the real challenges enterprises face today, and it just happened to focus on Microsoft products.

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