Microsoft Partners Bashing Open Source – A Coordinated Effort?

In this part of the country, the Microsoft Certified Partners, MVPs, and others affiliated have been doing much to spread a story that Open Source is a risky proposition for anyone wishing to do real work on their computers. It’s a story that trickles down from the top in the very worst way.

The words are never given in a harsh way; it’s more a good natured plea to assist the listener’s well being. The message, from an older person, can take on the tones of a father or grandfather cautioning progeny about the evils of the world in general.

The cautions range from Open Source not being written by professional programmers, therefore is prone to malware attacks, to the warning that, since (ostensibly) no one is paid, the software author(s) owe the user nothing, and therefore are never obligated to fix problems, or might get tired of working for free, and simply stop development.

Now most, involved with computers for a time, would surely know that projects that are Open Source seldom stop development abruptly, and if that happens, someone else usually picks up the project, like a runner in a relay race, reaching for the dropped baton. Many know that the programmer’s who are working on Open Source have been highly trained, many having worked for retail software manufacturers in the past.

These things all seem self-evident to the computer savvy, but not everyone is.

A story in CRN magazine speaks of how the same people just might be trying to spread fear, uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) to those who should know better – the customers they usually service.

Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) and its channel partners are bound together with the glue of mutual commercial success. That’s a big reason why Microsoft VARs are always quick to defend the software giant’s interests. Criticize Microsoft in front of a group of partners and you may find yourself being forced to run for cover.

So it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if recent reports of Certified Microsoft Professionals and their companies spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about open-source software were true. In a discussion on Slashdot earlier this week, community member Smidge207 reported a “huge push” in this type of activity and suggested it might be part of a coordinated campaign.

According to the Slashdot report, Microsoft partners are identifying companies that use open-source software, and then calling these firms and warning them of the dangers of using free software in their networks, in an effort ostensibly aimed at getting them to embrace Microsoft software. Microsoft says it hasn’t heard of this happening, and a spokesperson declined to comment.

Of course, Microsoft could not admit to being the source of any of this, if true.

Is Microsoft siccing its legions of loyal partners on the security reputation of open-source software? If so, it would contradict Microsoft’s recent steps toward a rapprochement with the open-source community. But it also would be difficult to trace Microsoft’s involvement in such a campaign.

Despite the potential intrigue of a proxy war, many solution providers say this is probably just a case of overzealous Microsoft partners acting independently.

Really? I wouldn’t be so sure. Microsoft needs a big win (7!) after the disaster that was Vista. It’s imperative that Microsoft make up for the losses of the economic downturn and the looming disaster of netbooks running Linux.

“I don’t think Microsoft would be so dumb as to direct or encourage partners to do this,” said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner in Fresno, Calif. “It’s simply another byproduct of this incredibly difficult economy, and a desperate response by some folks to find every potential sale.”

Microsoft has actively moved away from denigrating open source to a more nuanced approach that incorporates and integrates open source as necessary to support Microsoft initiatives, according to Bernard Golden, CEO of Hyperstratus, a San Carlos, Calif.-based solution provider. For example, the Windows Server team actively works with projects like PHP, JBoss and MySQL to ensure that these products run well on Windows.

Simply because Mr. Ballmer has been retired from the soapbox (temporarily), does not mean that his minions are incapable of taking up the task.

“This seems quite strange from the point of view of the Microsoft partners. Don’t they have enough to do rather than calling people up out of the blue to criticize open source? Frankly, it smacks of desperation,” Golden said.

John Locke, principal consultant at Freelock Computing, an open-source consultancy, says this sales tactic might pay off for Microsoft partners in the short term, but companies often find that scare tactics end up backfiring on them.

“No serious security professional will tell you a system is more secure just because you don’t know how it’s built,” Locke said. “It’s hard to see how outright lying to customers leads to more sales in the long run, especially when it’s so easy to dispel.”

Mr. Locke is correct, but then Microsoft lied about the label Vista-capable, and that was only a recent incursion on the truth. This sort of thing is legendary. Ask anyone who’s been in IT for over 15 years about the phrase, “The job’s not done, ’til Novell won’t run.”

Criticism of the security of open source may have been more valid a decade ago, but today, Apache and the Linux stack are ubiquitous in the industry and run some of the largest online retail operations in existence, noted Greg Hanchin, principal for Denver-based security solution provider Dirsec.

“Open source is just another common piece of infrastructure; it’s almost like Internet Protocol at this point,” Hanchin said.

In a bad economy, people do all sorts of things that ordinarily would never be considered. The saying, “Never mess with a man’s livelihood”, is very true. You never know what someone who fears they are against a wall will do.

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Money couldn’t buy you friends, but you get a better class of enemy.Spike Milligan
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