June 24, 2005

The facts behind the "Get the Facts" ad campaign

Author: Joe Barr

Commentary: Like many readers, I find Microsoft's Get the Facts (GtF) ads repugnant, especially when they appear on sites dedicated to Linux and open source software. I understand that such organizations' editorial and ad sales staffs operate independently, meaning neither side tells the other what content it is or isn't allowed to carry, but I still don't like it. Happily, however, the bogus GtF ads may not be around much longer.The ads are part of an evolving strategy for Microsoft. Its reputation became so tainted during the '90s that it became impossible for the company's own spokespeople -- from Chairman Bill Gates on down -- to speak with any credibility. That's why they began to disguise their identity and to outsource their marketing to paid shills in the press and elsewhere to deliver their lies. Finding folks with more credibility than they have has never been a problem for Microsoft.

Keep in mind that the GtF campaign did not represent a turn away from honest advertising, but rather continued a policy of deception. In 2003, for example, South Africa forced Microsoft to pull one of its more brazen ads from the market. That ad didn't just try to challenge reality, it tried to turn it upside down by claiming that Windows was so secure it would cause hackers to become extinct.

But that was then and this is GtF. Let's take a look at the different ways the GtF campaign has been conducted, and see why the Linux crowd in particular is so disenchanted with it.

Stacking the deck

When you get to stack the deck ahead of time, anything is possible. The centerpiece of the initial ads in the GtF campaign was a total cost of ownership study, funded by Microsoft, and prepared by IDC, which showed that Windows has a lower TCO than Linux. But IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky admitted to BusinessWeek that "the company selected scenarios that would inevitably be more costly using Linux."

Comparing apples to oranges

Microsoft loves false comparisons, but occasionally finds itself in hot water for using them. One "independent" TCO study featured in the GtF campaign claimed Linux was 10 times more costly than Windows. As reported by the BBC, Microsoft was ordered to pull misleading ads purported to compare the cost of the software while not revealing that it was actually comparing the cost of running Linux on two IBM mainframes against the cost of running Windows on a PC with two Intel CPUs.

If it's so obvious, why bother?

You might be wondering why I am reciting all these well-known embarrassments to the rats in Redmond. You've known all along that the Microsoft ads aimed at Linux are misleading and deceptive, whether they are part of the GtF campaign or not. The answer is two-fold: the lies keep coming, and people believe them. Besides, I've discovered a new wrinkle in Microsoft's bag of deceits I want to share with you.

Not long ago, a story and subsequent discussion on Slashdot revealed that one of the latest additions to the GtF -- a biased "study" which supposedly shows disinterest in Linux in the enterprise -- was being taken at face value, exactly as Microsoft intended it to be. Never mind that study's author had twisted the facts and inserted his pro-Redmond bias at every opportunity, as was revealed in a story right here on NewsForge several weeks earlier. The study -- which in fact shows Linux is continuing to penetrate deeper into the heart of Microsoft turf -- was cited on Slashdot as evidence that the GtF campaign was working, and that Linux was losing.

What I didn't know at the time that story was written was that the Info-Tech report was paid for by Microsoft -- just not up front, as in the "funded" reports Microsoft has used before. I guess they've learned that it's a dead giveaway that when they fund a report or a benchmark it is bound to show Microsoft's message, regardless of reality. They were sneakier this time. They paid for it after the fact.

How? I queried Microsoft about that very thing, via their public relations people at Waggener Edstrom. Spokesperson Ted Roduner told me:

Microsoft paid Infotech their standard reprint fee to post their study to the "Get the Facts" site. To be clear, Microsoft did not participate in the creation of the Infotech study and only contacted the firm after the report was made public.

Earlier I had learned that the payment was an "industry standard" reprint fee. But like most Microsoft "industry standards," it was secret, and Microsoft won't reveal it, referring me to Info-Tech for the answer.

Repeated queries to Info-Tech as to the amount of money they earned by having the "study" included in the GtF campaign have gone unanswered. The same firm that originally contacted us about the report, and offered to make its author available for an interview, and which was quick to point out that the report had not been funded by Microsoft, had no comment whatsoever on the amount.

If you haven't noticed, Microsoft has locked in on the erroneous conclusion that Linux has peaked and is now receding in the marketplace. The company will be beating the drums about this for as long as they can.

Good news/bad news

If Microsoft holds to the original time line for the campaign, which kicked off in January 2004 and signaled Microsoft's recognition of the fact that Linux was a serious threat to its empire, this may be the last month you'll have to suffer the ads.

That's the good news. The bad news is that just as Microsoft replaced the failed "Linux Myths" campaign with GtF, it won't be long until it starts churning out the same tired propaganda under a new banner, and many IT buyers will treat such things as fact instead of fantasy.

Microsoft did not abandon honesty when GtF was launched, and it won't return to it when GtF's tour of duplicity is complete. Scorpions, nature, and all that.

Category:

  • Linux
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