Getting the facts according to Microsoft
There has been a torrent of bad news for the Redmond Washington-based
In just the last few weeks of March, for instance, we saw a front-page
headline in the Vancouver Sun about three new variants of the so-called
Bagel virus spread by email, which can infect Windows systems (and only
Windows systems) even without the user needing to open an attachment.
(To be fair, Microsoft had released a patch to close this vulnerability
several months ago—one more reason for Windows users to keep their
patches up-to-date. As well, turn off the preview-pane in your email
software so that you can delete obvious virus and spam messages,
And the European
Union imposed a fine of a half a billion or so on Microsoft, alleging
that the company’s bundling of its Windows Media Player with Windows
made it difficult for other companies such as Real Networks (makers of
Real Player) to compete. Microsoft intends to appeal the decision.
In the middle of all this, I was invited to meet with Alec Taylor,
Microsoft Canada’s Senior Manager for Platform Strategy to “get the
facts” about Linux and the open source software movement. Taylor was
touring Western Canada, meeting with reporters and spreading the gospel
according to Microsoft.
Articulate and low-key, Taylor suggested that if customers (typically
meaning the chief technology officers of large corporations or
government departments—not individual users like you or me) step back
from the sometimes passionate debate about computer platforms, they
will see that Microsoft’s Windows (server and desktop versions) and
Office product lines are the most reliable, secure and cost-effective
solutions. He suggested that Microsoft has made a strong commitment to
deal with security issues and to produce software codes and tools for
other companies to use to produce future Windows-based software that is
more secure from the ground up.
There is some validity to his arguments. Certainly, because Microsoft
Windows and Office are on the vast majority of home and business
computers, users and network administrators, and computer technicians
are more familiar with those platforms. Users need less training than
if an organization decides to move to something new and different. And
initial software purchase price forms only a small percentage of the
total cost of operation over time. As a result, free software (like
Linux or OpenOffice) may prove to be more expensive in the long run.
On the other hand, it isn’t good enough to say, as Taylor repeated,
that all computer platforms have security issues. Microsoft products
have more than their share of problems and not just because they’re
used by more people and so more often targeted by the bad guys.
Microsoft products are also targeted because Microsoft’s design
decisions made them easy targets. And while Microsoft is working hard
to patch holes and make future products more secure, millions of users
of its older versions are left in the lurch.
(And depending how you juggle the figures, the extra time and effort
required to patch Windows systems and to keep them virus-free may make
them more expensive to operate than Microsoft’s figures. Supporters of
different computer platforms toss around dueling studies comparing
total cost of operation. A recent independent study suggested that it
would be more expensive for large organizations to switch to Linux than
to move to a newer Windows version, but that there could be real cost
benefits for smaller organizations. And Mac fans point to studies
showing lower support costs for that platform).
Recently, computer columnist-gadfly John Dvorak compared Microsoft’s
Windows, Apple’s OS X, and the open source Linux. He noted that the Mac
was easiest to use, Linux crashed the least, and Windows supported the
most hardware, while spam affected users of all three systems. He
suggested that a case for lowest total cost of ownership could be made
for all three contenders. But the area where Windows shone was in the
availability of games. If, despite real concerns about Microsoft and
Windows, people are loath to switch, Dvorak concluded, it’s for the