Memo to Microsoft

To: Brian Valentine, senior vice-president, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Corp.

From: Shane Schick, editor,

Date: Jan. 8, 2002

Dear Brian,

Forgive me for not sending this to your office, but given that your memos tend to find their way to the high-tech community at large I figured this would be as secure as any of your other correspondence.

I am referring, of course, to a series of memos you wrote concerning Microsoft’s strategy to take on Linux in the enterprise. The most recent one, sent Dec. 26 has already been republished by U.S. media sources. This is the one where you urge your staff to infiltrate customer environments to see if Linux is secretly lurking in the back end. As you so rightly pointed out: “Linux is out there in some of your accounts and you may not know it. We need to modify our traditional approaches of finding out about Linux in our customer base. We have to be more hands-on and dig deeper in your accounts!” I think the exclamation point really drives that message home.

You mentioned in this memo that you were “mad” because Microsoft staff leaked your previous memo on this subject, which triggered a barrage of hate mail from the Linux community. I can sympathize. The last time I wrote about Linux, I said that the lack of standardization and accountability in the open-source OS make it a high-risk investment. I was flooded with angry responses from readers who have either successfully been deploying Linux for years or who have convinced senior-level management to make the switch. I still think the risks are there, but IDC figures show Linux taking up an ever-greater share of the server market, which is surely what has prompted your plea for more aggressive account management.

I understand that the rallying cry to your staff is being accompanied by a special intranet to look up best practices for competing against Linux. Having seen for myself the company’s portal prowess at a knowledge management seminar in Toronto a few years ago, I know Microsoft is very good at culling this sort of information. The studies you have commissioned with D.H. Brown Associates will also prove helpful in attacking Linux’s reputation as a low-cost alternative.

I just wonder, though, whether there is all that much cause for alarm. Did you happen to see the first IT spending report conducted by Goldman Sachs late last year? Very interesting stuff. Apparently they polled some 100 executives from Fortune 1,000 companies about their purchasing plans. According to the report’s authors, there were “some surprises from our IT managers, with Linux . . . virtually not registering on our survey.” In fact, 65 per cent of respondents said they have no plans at use Linux at their company this year. Another 24 per cent said they may use it, but only as an addition to their infrastructure, not as replacement to Windows (feeling better yet?). Finally, only three per cent said they see Linux as their primary enterprise server OS within the next three years.

Of course, you and I both know that these numbers don’t tell the full story. You wouldn’t be urging your sales reps to sniff around if you thought these senior executives were completely up to date on their IT environments.

It’s ironic that some of your advice would actually apply very well to a reseller trying to drum up more Linux-related business. “Do the simple exercise of walking through your accounts’ data centers, and when you see a Sun or IBM machine, ask what it’s used for,” you say in the memo, for example. “Ask about the ‘connector’ pieces . . .This is a great way to not only find out about Linux, but also other IT projects that may include Novell, Sun, Oracle and other competitors!” Talk about best practices!

I wish you the best of luck, but face it, Brian: Linux has gotten as far as it has because some very smart people in the trenches have made some decisions on their own. Exposing those kind of secrets won’t be easy. Unless, of course, somebody put them in a memo.



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