Novell, Microsoft Clash Over Linux

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Countering the latest salvo of Microsoft's Get the Facts campaign against open-source software, Novell this week launched a Web site devoted to "unbending the truth" about Linux in the enterprise.

Novell chief executive officer Jack Messman is also in the process of sending an e-mail to Novell customers. Messman's e-mail debunks a memo that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent to customers last week. In his memo, Ballmer wrote that Windows has economic and security advantages over open-source software and warned that Linux users are fair game for intellectual-property lawsuits.

Ballmer's widely publicized e-mail came at the one-year anniversary of Microsoft's Get the Facts campaign, a marketing effort by the Redmond, Washington, software giant that compares Windows favorably with Linux. In the e-mail, as Microsoft has done throughout the campaign, Ballmer cites passages from studies conducted by industry analyst firms that show Windows to be superior to Linux.

In response, Novell is accusing Microsoft of cherry-picking from the analyst reports.

"Microsoft is being very selective in what they are pulling from these studies," says Bruce Lowry, a Novell spokesperson. "Microsoft is trying to spread FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] in the marketplace with incomplete arguments."

Contrary to the message Microsoft is trying to get across, the studies don't chide Linux at all, according to Novell. For example, a Yankee Group report comparing the cost of Windows to that of Linux also says Linux provides "excellent performance, reliability, ease of use, and security," Novell's Messman writes in his e-mail.

However, Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio, author of the report, cautions that Novell may now be quoting selectively from her report to show Linux in a favorable light. You can make a case for either operating system depending on what the individual user's environment looks like, she says.

"Unless you read the whole report, you can take things out of context.... Novell is trying to use it for their own purposes," DiDio says.

Novell also takes issue with Ballmer's comments that no vendor today stands behind Linux with full intellectual-property indemnification. "In fact, it is rare for open-source software to provide customers with any indemnification at all," Ballmer writes. That's wrong, according to Messman, who says Novell does offer its customers protection from copyright claims.

"If the world were as Microsoft states, Linux would not be the world's fastest-growing operating system," Messman writes.

Novell is not alone in critiquing Microsoft's campaign and Ballmer's e-mail in particular. Dion Cornett, an analyst with Decatur Jones Equity Partners, an equity research firm based in Chicago, writes in a research note that Ballmer obviously selected portions of the analyst reports to make his case.

"If the 'independent studies' are as accurate as Ballmer claims, then AOL, Amazon, Google, and Linksys--all companies that are standardizing on Linux--must be wrong in how they operate their massive IT infrastructures," Cornett writes.

Additionally, Cornett believes Microsoft's campaign may have an adverse effect on the company and little impact on open-source vendors such as Novell and Red Hat. "In fact [the campaign] may have the opposite effect of validating Linux as a viable threat to Microsoft's business," he writes.

Novell entered the Linux business last year with the acquisitions of SuSE Linux and Ximian. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company, for now, is limiting its public response to Get the Facts to the Web site and the Messman e-mail, Lowry says.

Microsoft officials were not immediately available for comment.

Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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