Microsoft Memo Questions Effectiveness Of Its Anti-Open-Source Marketing Efforts - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Memo Questions Effectiveness Of Its Anti-Open-Source Marketing Efforts

Memo says legal efforts and name-calling are especially ineffective and may be backfiring.

Microsoft believes many of its efforts to market its products against Linux and open source are backfiring, according to an internal memo leaked and posted on the Internet.

Particularly ineffective tactics include legal arguments and name-calling, the memo says. Top Microsoft executives have called open source a "cancer." The company says it needs instead to focus marketing on total cost of ownership.

The memo was posted to the Web site of the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit open-source advocacy group, by its president, Eric Raymond.

The memo says the slam campaign just isn't working.

"Messages that criticize OSS, Linux & the general public license are NOT effective," the memo says. "Messaging that discusses possible Linux patent violations, pings the OSS development process for lacking accountability, attempts to call out the 'viral' aspect of the GPL and the like are only marginally effective in driving unfavorable opinions around OSS, Linux, and the GPL, and in some cases backfire. On the other hand, 'positive' OSS, Linux, and GPL messages are very effective--both across geographies and audiences."

"I've suspected for a while that the anti-Linux, anti-GPL FUD campaign was actually rebounding on Microsoft," Raymond says. "This seems to confirm it."

Microsoft declined to comment on the authenticity of the memo and did not answer when asked if it believes its marketing against Linux and open source has been effective.

"The document in question seems to suggest that the basis for evaluating products has been long-term customer value, and that's something we agree with," a Microsoft spokesman says. "I think our marketing is geared toward that issue, toward long-term customer value."

The memo is based on international telephone interviews with IT managers and staff, non-IT business managers who make policy decisions about IT and software procurement, and opinion influencers on technology issues, such as policymakers in education and government. The survey was conducted last year; however, Microsoft is still using the memo to shape its Linux competitive strategy today, Raymond says.

Some 86% of respondents have favorable opinions about Linux. Forty percent of respondents say a low total cost of ownership was one of the best reasons to support open-source software, and a third of respondents say they support open-source software because it presents an alternative to Microsoft.

The memo says favorable opinions about open source and Linux are more emotional than rational. "Given this context, we should not expect rational arguments focused on undermining support for OSS, Linux, and the GPL to perform well. In the short term, then, Microsoft should avoid criticizing OSS and Linux directly, continue to develop and aim to eventually win the TCO argument, and focus on delivering positive Shared Source messages that contain transparent, audience specific proof points."

Shared Source is a Microsoft initiative aimed at combating open source by letting selected business partners have access to Microsoft source code. With Shared Source, Microsoft retains the intellectual property of the code.

"Messages that rely on an abstract discussion of intellectual property rights are not effective," the memo says. "The discussion of IP rights needs to be tied to concrete actions."

Raymond speculates that this passage may be a hint of future lawsuits to be filed by Microsoft against open-source developers.

"Uh oh," he writes. "I have to wonder if 'concrete actions' is code for 'massive #@%!$ing lawsuits.' "

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