Microsoft Downplays Linux Win

Officials stressed that Microsoft's relationship with the German government remained strong and was unaffected by a new Linux implementation deal with IBM.

Microsoft Corp., moving to downplay the impact of the recent Linux-based agreement between IBM and the German Ministry of the Interior, on Monday stressed that its relationship with the German government remained strong and was unaffected by the IBM arrangement.

Big Blue and the German agency on Monday announced an agreement that would help the German government standardize on Linux and an open-source IT model at the federal, state and communal levels.

But, in a very swift reaction to the news, a Microsoft spokesman stressed that its relationships with the German government remained strong and that IBM was not usurping any of those moving forward.

"Microsoft continues to believe that the government IT sector holds opportunity for several players and is committed to working with governments across the board to ensure that the infrastructure of today will help lead to the infrastructure of tomorrow without extensive cost and complexity," he said.

Even John Sarsgard, the vice president of IBMs worldwide Linux solution in Somers, N.Y., agreed that there was room for more than one player, particularly in those areas where Linux was not as strong as some of its competitors.

"Our agreement does not provide a specific timeframe for the German government to implement Linux and open source solutions. They are using just about every software and hardware solution and I dont think theyre targeting any single environment with this move.

"But this is an open-ended agreement that is just the start of a very long journey for both of us. We will find an increasing number of things the open source model and Linux are good at doing and which will benefit the German government just as well continue to find some things better done by other solutions," he said.

As part of its mandate, IBM would identify areas where Linux and open source solutions could help the German government the most. The cooperation agreement was an open-ended arrangement that allowed the parties to do a number of things together going forward rather than a deal to simply sell a specified number of servers or software, he said.

But the Microsoft spokesman also pointed out that the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and Microsoft Germany had last year signed a framework agreement that allowed the German public sector to buy Microsoft software with a special discount.

"Also, following their meeting at the CeBIT trade show in Hanover, Germany this March, Otto Schily, the German Federal Minister of the Interior, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed to intensify the cooperation between the German Federal Government and Microsoft.

"On April 23 the deputy minister of the Interior, Mrs Zypries, and Craig Mundy [a senior vice president at Microsoft] decided on intensifying the security partnership between the ministry and Microsoft. Further talks between Mrs. Zypries and Kurt Sibold, the general manager of Microsoft Germany, take place today about further commercial agreements," he said.

But German Interior Minister Schily was clear on Monday that Linux offered the "best potential as an alternative to Windows for server operating systems to reach more heterogeneity in the area of software. The fact that we have an alternative to Windows with Linux gives us more independence as a large software customer and is a major contribution to the economic use of IT in the administration," he said.

He was also looking for ways to raise the level of security of IT infrastructures in the public and private sector under a framework of security partnerships. As such, the contract with IBM met three key targets for the German government.

"We raise the level of IT security by avoiding monocultures, we lower the dependency on single software vendors, and we reach costs savings in software and operation costs," Schily said.

IBMs Sarsgard said having the source open for everyone to see avoided the ability for anyone to sneak things into the code. Linux security had generally been very highly regarded and had an excellent track record as a secure operating system.

The Microsoft spokesman countered that while much has been made about open source software being more secure, recent studies from analyst groups and think tanks said security was now being regarded as more of an industry-wide issue that was platform agnostic.

"No software made by human hands will ever be completely or truly secure. All software contains flaws and some flaws result in security vulnerabilities. Weve seen that latent vulnerabilities have been present in open source software offerings for years, as noted by the recent FTP problem in Linux," he said.

"Unfortunately, few people are actually reviewing security issues with open source software due to the lack of incentive. The focused intention of accessing this code is just to fix a known bug or find/add a feature," he added.

For its part, Microsoft dedicated extensive resources to ferreting out bugs and vulnerabilities and offered additional security and quality control that restricted access to code for those who would maliciously intend to attack the end user, the spokesman said.

But a software engineer in San Diego, CA who requested anonymity, countered by saying that while Microsoft was telling the U.S. government that opening up its APIs would put the US and its military forces around the world in danger from hackers and terrorists, the German government believed that the open source Linux operating system would help it secure its computing systems.

"Strange, how can both be true unless Microsoft Windows is so prone to security holes that opening its APIs would show just how frail it really is. If that is the case, it sounds like Microsoft is really saying that the US government should not be using Microsoft Windows. After all, if its got so many holes in it now, wont hackers and terrorists just keep finding them?" he questioned.