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Lessons from Africa: How to Kill Your Own FUD

Nov 09, 2007, 23:30 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

In a world where the big conglomerates and industries tend to roll over the little guy, it was really nice to see the government of Nigeria put the kibosh on Microsoft's planned takeover of the Mandriva/Classmate PC deal in that country.

The original deal called for the initial deployment of 17,000 Classmates, all pre-loaded with Mandriva, to be purchased by Nigeria and deployed by a private supplier, Technology Support Center. For some reason--nobody's completely sure why, though there's a good guess coming up--the TSC informed Mandriva that they would reinstall Windows XP on those machines before deploying them.

Understandably, the folks at Mandriva were--pardon their French--pissed. CEO François Bancilhon broke out the whup-ass (another French term) and fired off a public letter that stopped just short of accusing Microsoft of corruption.

Today, we learned from a Computerworld UK story, there did seem to be some money floating around in the back channels. Apparently, according to Microsoft's own man on the ground in Nigeria, "Microsoft is still negotiating an agreement that would give TSC US$400,000 for marketing activities around the Classmate PCs when those computers are converted to Windows."

Here's what I want to know (he wrote facetiously): in a world where Windows is supposed to be so much better than Linux on every platform, how come Microsoft has to pay people to get them to use it instead of Linux?

Uh huh, thought so.

It seems as if in virtually every instance of a major deployment of Microsoft products over open source, or in the case of reverse migrations, there has been evidence of some sort of concessions made (lower fees, rebates, "marketing help") by Redmond to get their products sold.

This is an anecdotal statement, of course, but I think it's a lot truer than Microsoft would like the public to know. One good pointer to this practice: the incidents where an organization started making noise about deploying to Linux or open source technology--only to later stay with Microsoft. It's a deplorable practice, but the fact that organizations do it means they know Microsoft is willing to cough up some big discounts.

Now, on one level, these practices by Microsoft make sense. If I make widget X and someone comes along and makes widget Y for half the price, you can darn well bet I am going to lower the price of widget X. But that assumes that widget X and Y are comparable products in terms of functionality and quality.

In Microsoft-land, however, Linux is an inferior product. Open source is inherently dangerous. If that were the case, then why can't Microsoft get its products into these markets without the rebates and discounts? Sure, you'd expect Microsoft to knock down the price of their wares a bit--there are still plenty of people who will buy anything based on a price tag, no matter how bad the product is. Yet, many times Microsoft will vastly cut its revenue just to keep its toehold in the market.

The classic example is the free distribution of Internet Explorer, which effectively killed Netscape. People migrated to IE because of the magic price: free. Note, however, Netscape's legacy Firefox is rapidly coming back to kick IE in the head. Once the price points were equal, people realized that IE still doesn't have what it takes in terms of security and flexibility.

So, even as Microsoft claims superior quality over Linux, they act as if they don't even buy their own FUD. If they really believed that Windows was superior to Linux, they wouldn't have to bribe people with "marketing help" to get them to choose Windows.

Makes one wonder what else Microsoft does to play with the market, doesn't it?

(Except it's really no wonder at all.)

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