Analysts: Ballmers Pep Talk Underrates Linux

Although Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer waxed optimistic about the company's Linux competition in his annual memo to employees, analysts and Linux leaders say Microsoft is losing traction fast and that its battles are "only going to get worse."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmers annual e-mail update to the Microsoft troops revealed much about the Redmond, Wash., giants views on Linux and its other operating-system competition. In turn, we asked analysts and Linux leaders what they thought of Ballmers latest Linux comments.

In the memo, Ballmer wrote, "We are effectively using independent studies by Forrester Research, the Yankee Group, IDC, Giga, BearingPoint and many others to change perceptions of the advantages of Windows over Linux when it comes to total cost of ownership [TCO], functionality and productivity advantages, support and security. We need to do work like this in every business to get customers to recognize our work and appreciate it fully."

Garth Dickey, president and CEO of Progeny Linux Systems Inc., said he was surprised to see Ballmer talking so candidly about the companys need to alter perceptions.

"Mr. Ballmers pep-talk memo reflects the fact that Microsoft is a smart company with a lot of strengths," Dickey said. "Im struck by the candor of his comment about using independent studies to change market perceptions about Windows.

"The transparency of commissioning such independent studies for a specific purpose—that is, to find a prespecified result—serves merely to undermine the effectiveness of such efforts by raising doubts within the industry about the impartiality of such studies."

Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, noted that Ballmer "talks about changing perceptions—even Ballmer has to admit that they have to work hard to catch up with customer perceptions of Linux value."

Others were sharper with Microsoft. "It is true that Microsoft is using third parties to create FUD for use via its Get the Facts program. But who would believe this stuff?" asked Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research.

"No operating system is better than another operating system in every possible way, and that is what MS is trying to convince people to believe," he said. "TCO studies are basically worthless unless they are directed at specific organizations."

Specifically, Claybrook said, "The problem with MS independent studies by Forrester, Yankee, etc. is that they are not really objective. One of the studies that is on the Get the Facts Web site done by a third party that looked at the interoperability of operating systems had Windows winning as usual, but almost 40 percent of the people interviewed were running only Windows. Now that is not objective."

Ballmer maintained a cheery note as he compared Microsofts growth with others.

"In the 12 months through Q3 of this year, we grew faster than key competitors such as IBM, AOL, Sun, Oracle and Sony," he wrote. "We know how to compete with Linux through innovation, quality support execution and facts-based customer education. We gained server market share (as did Linux) and are poised for more progress. OSS products have yet to provide meaningful customer value on the client compared with our offerings."

The Open Source Initiatives Raymond said such commentary belies a bleaker picture of competition with Linux.

"Whistling in the dark, aint he?" Raymond said. "To maintain this line, he has to ignore unpleasant facts like Gartners report of 57 percent growth in Linux server shipments in 1Q 2004, on a trend line that took us to a quarter of Windows volume and should have us overtaking them early next year … or sooner."

Raymond also mentioned "high-profile moves to open source by the governments of France and Brazil, joining Germany, Korea, South Africa and Peru. Not to mention a million Java desktops in China."

Next Page: Naming key competitors.