Microsoft Exec Wanted To Mask Linux Report Sponsorship, E-Mails Reveal - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Exec Wanted To Mask Linux Report Sponsorship, E-Mails Reveal

Kevin Johnson worried adding Microsoft's moniker to IDC analysis for its "Get the Facts" publicity campaign would only fuel the fire from Linux supporters.

Microsoft executives pondered whether to remove the company's name from a 2002 report done by research firm IDC that touted Windows total cost of ownership over Linux, according to e-mail messages entered into evidence in an Iowa antitrust case.

The report, which IDC released in December 2002 and was plugged by Microsoft in its then-new "Get the Facts" publicity campaign against Linux, compared total cost of ownership of Windows 2000 and Linux server software. The IDC study, which was identified as Microsoft sponsored when it debuted, claimed that Windows 2000 offered a lower TCO in four of five enterprise scenarios.

Before its release, however, company executives worried that adding Microsoft's moniker would only fuel the fire from Linux partisans.

In an e-mail dated Nov. 1, 2002, Kevin Johnson, now the head of Windows, wrote: "I don't like it to be public on the doc that we sponsored it because I don't think the outcome is as favorable as we had hoped. I just don't like competitors using it as ammo against us. It is easier if it doesn't mention that we sponsored it."

Johnson's e-mail, and correspondence from others, were posted to a Web site by the plaintiffs in a Des Moines, Iowa, state antitrust case. The documents are just the most recent of numerous embarrassing disclosures about Microsoft's inner workings, including this week's discussion about how Apple's Mac OS X bested Vista (nee Longhorn) while the Windows operating system was still in development.

Some Microsoft officials argued in 2002 that it was better to put the news of the company's sponsorship up front. "I think it is unlikely that we could keep customers/competitors from knowing that we sponsored this," wrote Peter Houston in a Nov. 1 message. Houston now leads the Active Directory group but was then a senior director in the Windows Server product team.

The court evidence also gives a peek into the relationships large vendors like Microsoft have with research firms. In a different Nov. 3, 2002, message, Houston said that the company had been unable to convince any other major research company to do the TCO study, and specifically mentioned Gartner as one that turned down Microsoft's request.

"We approached Gartner about doing this study and they declined," said Houston. "They said it was because they didn't know that their model for TCO would work well with Linux. I privately wonder if they want to take on this debate."

And the month before, Houston wrote Johnson a message that intimated pressure had been put on IDC to tweak the report so it would put Microsoft in a better light. "I hate to put it like this, but at this point, IDC is done negotiating with us. We have moved them quite a bit already, but they are now holding the line, saying that if we want the names of their 'big' analysts on the report, this is it."

Although Microsoft's Web site still hosts a Dec. 17, 2002, press release extolling the TCO survey, the study itself has been removed.

The Microsoft e-mail messages can be downloaded as a PDF file from this Web site.

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