April 16, 2014

Lou's Views: Playing Hardball with Microsoft - page 2

Candidate Tux vs. The Man

  • February 27, 2001
  • By Lou Grinzo

If you want more examples, I suggest you check out the dirty tricks page on the Boycott Microsoft Site, which details some of the things that Microsoft does and/or that happen to their competitors. All the incidents are documented with links to news sites, and I suspect that most people reading this will remember at least some of them. Consider yourself warned: People with high blood pressure want not want to read this entire page in one sitting.

As bothersome as some of these dirty trick are, the one that really got my hackles up was the report from another source that Microsoft at one time paid professors $200 for mentioning or using their products in their research projects. The program appears to have ended now, but there's still a story online here about it.

Perhaps the funniest thing is that the one area where almost everyone assumes Microsoft and other big vendors influence publications, product reviews, is the one that's actually untouched. I was a contributing editor and product reviewer for Windows Magazine once upon a time, I was recently the reviews editor of Linux Magazine, I've reviewed computer products for other magazine, and I can tell you that every one of the publications I've worked for take extreme care to separate the business and editorial sides of the organization, and that reviews are thoroughly insulated from business concerns. (Sure, we all make jokes about such things, and one publisher I worked for used to make jokes about being willing to sell "every page in the magazine", but he, like everyone else I've worked for and with, is far too ethical to even consider selling out like that.) Not once in my writing career have I heard even the merest suggestion that a product review be slanted one way or another to help entice a big company to buy more ads. And that' really no surprise, as it would be suicidal for a publication to do something that dumb, so it just doesn't happen. But more important, the larger companies don't need to try to influence product reviews because they have other, more effective, ways to do the same thing. Why spend money to slant the playing field a little when you can put out your own magazine and own the entire contest?

As for how the Linux camp can and should counter these efforts, that's a tougher call. Linux's technical strengths are unquestioned, and they're earning it a lot of attention and use in enterprise settings. While enterprises are clearly influenced by technical publications, they're influenced even more by their own experience with products, and on servers that's very good news for Linux. The bad news is that the Microsoft PR juggernaut will be much more effective on the desktop, where a large number of customers will have to make individual decisions based on very little or no first-hand experience. Enterprises often have the luxury of doing extensive in-house testing of a new product or technology before committing to it on a large scale; it's much harder and more costly (in terms of time and frustration), in relative terms, for the SOHO and home PC users to test drive Linux. This is why I've long said that Linux's secret weapon on the desktop is the loop-back distros, like Phat Linux, which let individuals experiment with Linux without modifying their Windows installation. We should do whatever it takes to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested in Linux to acquire a copy of a loop-back distro and try it out.

Never forget that Linux's biggest weapon is the truth. When we catch someone lying we should do whatever we can within legal, moral, and ethical boundaries to expose the situation, and do it in a way that furthers Linux's cause. (Conversely, it means we shouldn't resort to shady tactics of our own, no matter how tempting it might be at times.) Sadly, we have no choice but to respond to absurdities like the Allchin statements; it's a shame to expend the effort and be distracted by jumping out of the way when someone throws a bean ball at your head, but it's better to do that than get hit. It's just another part of playing hardball.

(Thanks to Paul Ferris for help with the research for this editorial.)

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