Steve Ballmer has pumped out a four-page memo explaining why Windows is better than Linux.

"In the thousands of meetings that Microsoft employees have with customers around the world every day," it begins, "many of the same questions consistently surface: Does an open source platform really provide a long-term cost advantage compared with Windows? Which platform offers the most secure computing environment? Given the growing concern among customers about intellectual property indemnification, what's the best way to minimize risk? In moving from an expensive Unix platform, what's the best alternative in terms of migration?"

You won't be surprised to hear that Microsoft and Windows comes out top in each category. Ballmer argues that the rising prices companies such as IBM, Red Hat and Novell charge for technical services and support, along with costs associated with indemnification, now outstrip the financial advantages of free open source software.

"It's pretty clear the facts show Windows provides a lower total cost of ownership than Linux," he contends. "The number of security vulnerabilities is lower on Windows, and Windows responsiveness on security is better than Linux, and Microsoft provides uncapped IP indemnification of their products. There is no such comprehensive offering available for Linux or open source," he goes on.

Few are likely to be as confident in such views, however, Ballmer did accept that the rise of Linux has forced Microsoft to change. Last year the software giant took a closer look at its volume licensing contracts in order to see what it could do to increase customer satisfaction, Ballmer said. The top issue apparently was patent indemnification.

"No vendor today stands behind Linux with full IP indemnification. In fact, it is rare for open source software to provide customers with any indemnification at all. We think Microsoft's indemnification already is one of the best offered by the leading players in the industry for volume licensing customers, and we're looking at ways to expand it to an even broader set of our customers," Ballmer wrote.

Backing this assertion up, he cites Regal Entertainment, the world's largest movie theater chain, which made the move to Red Hat Linux in 2001. After evaluating Linux for several months, they migrated to Windows for multiple reasons including lower TCO, more reliability and manageability, and because they felt they were more fully indemnified with regards to IP. At least according to Ballmer.

What inspired the memo, in part, were almost identical conversations that Ballmer, Taylor, and Kevin Johnson, the head of Microsoft's worldwide sales and marketing, were having with corporate users, the company claimed. "It was almost comical how all of these separate conversations had the same pace and flow among those topics. So Steve figured if we are having these conversations, then everyone else must be so he decided to send out a note to everyone sharing some data points and things they should consider," Taylor said.

In the memo, Ballmer also stressed the importance of Unix migration in the next 12 months. He referred to the one-year anniversary of the company's "Get The Facts" campaign that has attempted to lay out in a no-frills fashion for Unix users the technical and cost benefits of choosing Windows over Linux.

And, unsurprisingly, Ballmer advises IT and other business decision makers to migrate ERP systems from more expensive Unix environments to Windows. An independent survey of companies that have completed a migration of their SAP or PeopleSoft ERP systems from Unix to Windows found more than a 20 percent reduction in the numbers of servers required compared with Unix, Ballmer claimed. That survey will no doubt become the focus of some attention in the next few days.

Finally, Ballmer contends that Windows can provide corporate IT shops with superior security over competitive Linux servers, saying the company has made software security "a top priority the last three years". He said Microsoft has invested heavily in a multi-pronged initiative to improve software quality and a number of development processes.

"But still, Linux has often been touted as a more secure platform. In part, this is because of the 'many eyeballs' maxim of open source software that claims a correlation between the number of developers looking at code and the number of bugs found and resolved. While this has some validity, it is not necessarily the best way to develop secure software," he states.

Instead: "We believe in the effectiveness of a structured software engineering process that includes a deep focus on quality, technology advances, and vigorous testing to make software more secure."

None of this sales pitch will surprise the IT market, and it certainly won't persuade Linux advocates, but it is an interesting demonstration that Linux is really beginning to worry Microsoft and it makes it clear where the software giant will be drawing its battle lines.

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