August 29, 2005

OSDL breaks silence on secret meetings with MS

Author: Tina Gasperson

Microsoft approached the Open Source Development Lab about conducting a jointly-funded research study that would purportedly produce some facts-based analysis and comparisons of the two operating systems. Both Microsoft and the OSDL have been pretty tight-lipped about the discussions held during a LinuxWorld meeting between Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, Martin Taylor, and the OSDL's CEO Stuart Cohen. However, late last week the OSDL forwarded us a statement from Cohen that explains some of the silence.The statement reads:
Martin Taylor of Microsoft invited me to meet with him to discuss shared
research and other topics at LinuxWorld and I accepted. Martin proposed that
our meeting stay confidential in order to be as productive as possible and I
agreed. When reporters contacted me about the meeting, I first asked Martin
how he wanted us to respond to questions about a confidential conversation.
He said he's looking into how the press was notified and he promised to get
back to me. As far as working with Microsoft on a study, I explained that
Microsoft could probably find one negative line on Linux in a 100-page
research report that it would spend $10 million marketing while ignoring the
other 99 pages. Why would OSDL want to participate in that?

Why, indeed. Funded research studies are suspect. It makes sense that a researcher is going to be favorably biased, if only subconsciously, toward its source of funds. That's human nature. Microsoft has been the money behind quite a few of these studies comparing Windows and Linux, and not one of them has concluded Linux is better than Windows. So what does it mean when MS comes courting open source to participate in a "facts-based" research project? Its offer to pay half could be construed as a capitulation to the "follow the money" theory of how research results are obtained, which in our mind negates the validity of all other Microsoft-sponsored research. Of course, Microsoft would say that it is simply showing good faith friendliness and a spirit of cooperation by offering to go halfsies with OSDL.

Microsoft can show anything it wants to with its bought and paid for statistics filtered through just the right paradigms. Then again, so could the OSDL. But nothing tells the truth like anecdotal experience, and open source software claims story upon success story from actual people and actual businesses that are switching from Microsoft to Linux. Some of them are doing it with the help of consultants large and small, and some of them are doing it themselves. There are stories of baby-step transitions that have taken place over months and years, and stories of "instant" transformations. There are stories of challenges, struggles, and frustrations as old ways of doing things are unlearned and new ways are adopted. The people who have decided to leave the old ways behind are doing it because they are convinced there's a better way, and they are willing to fight to gain it. And when the struggles are done and the new way established, over and over again company owners are telling us they have lower expenses, more secure, faster systems, longer uptimes, and higher profits to show for their troubles. That's research money can't buy and researchers can't massage.

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