Microsoft Corp. renewed its attack on Linux, its primary rival in the business software market, with Chief Executive Steve Ballmer telling customers in a letter sent Wednesday the freely available rival operating system is less secure and more costly to maintain.
"Few companies know what they're really spending," Ballmer said, citing several studies showing that the cost of hiring software administrators and engineers to maintain Linux-based systems outstrips the benefits of getting it for free.
Linux is open source software, meaning it can be copied and modified freely, making it popular among businesses seeking to lower their information technology (IT) costs.
Linux distributors such as Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc., as well as computer maker International Business Machines Corp., make money by providing update and support services for Linux systems.
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Microsoft, which competes against Linux in the market for the servers that run corporate networks, cited several customer studies showing that IT managers were able to reduce the number of servers they needed by a half by using Windows Server.
Only five of 14 companies surveyed by research firms kept detailed information on IT costs and that "each of those five found Linux more expensive (5 percent to 20 percent) than their current Microsoft environments," Ballmer wrote in an e-mail to customers, his second this year. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has also sent two letters to customers this year, mainly on security issues.
Linux advocates respond
Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry countered that many of the same independent studies also show Linux having cost advantages over Windows in other scenarios, and that the popularity of Linux is the best proof of its competitiveness.
"The fact that Linux has been growing so rapidly over the last five or six years is evidence that there's a perceived value there," Lowry said.
Linux advocates also argue that since anyone can see the inner working of Linux software, it is inherently more secure. Ballmer conceded that Linux advocates had a point, but argued that Microsoft has a better system in place to identify and fix security bugs in its software.
In response to customer complaints over its buggy software, Microsoft adopted a "Trustworthy Computing" initiative in early 2002 to make its software more reliable and secure.
Ballmer also said that Microsoft had a better strategy in place to fix security vulnerabilities in its software products and protect customers against claims of infringement on any patented technology contained in Microsoft's software.
Linux users got a scare earlier year when SCO Group Inc. sued a company for using Linux, which SCO claimed contains software code that it owns. SCO is also embroiled in a lawsuit with IBM, claiming that the computer giant illegally built SCO's software code into Linux.
In response, several Linux supporters, including Hewlett-Packard Co., have offered to indemnify customers that use the Linux operating system.
Ballmer said that "the facts show that Windows provides a lower total cost of ownership than Linux; 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."