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Jo Best

Microsoft has launched its ‘Get the Facts’ road show–the tech equivalent of a political battle bus–to tour the country and convince the wavering that Redmond is as at least cheap and as secure as its open-source rival.

Nick McGrath, Microsoft’s head of platform strategy, described the campaign as “a reality check we’re bringing out”, aiming to tackle the “myths” surrounding Linux.

One of the myths that’s getting Microsoft’s goat is the term ‘free’. At the London leg of the road show, not one attendee raised their hand when asked if they believed Linux was free–after all, Linux vendors aren’t giving their Linux products away for nothing.

Meta Group analyst Philip Dawson said consumers should bear in mind that while Linux itself is free, that’s not the whole story. “It’s a free component–it’s not a free platform, it’s not a free service–it’s a free component,” he said.

But what about the old adage that it’s not free as in free lunch but more free as in freedom of speech?

From the talk today, it seems that Microsoft have appreciated the difficulty of persuading the passionate Linux folk. One Microsoft exec described the anti-Microsoft feelings as a “jihad.”

It’s a term that didn’t sit well with other open-sourcers. Novell’s technical director, Steve Gaines, said: “There’s a huge amount of passion around open source… It’s far more positive; it’s ‘let’s create alternatives’ not ‘let’s trash something someone else has done’.”

The other prong of Microsoft’s rebuttal takes on security ‘myths’.

Nick Barley, Microsoft’s director of business marketing organization, refuted allegations that MS security was lax, saying the tools are there, but they have to be switched on. “We’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to educate the marketplace… work with the marketplace to help them understand what to do to protect their PC–it’s not necessarily anything that’s not on their PC already, it’s just not enabled.”

When asked the question, “Why might Linux be more secure than Windows?” in a recent poll, the majority of respondents said it was the way the operating system was created.

Forty-one per cent said it might be more secure because of the open-source development model, 32 per cent said because it’s not as widely used and is therefore less of a target and 27 per cent said it wasn’t more secure, full stop.

While Microsoft does share its code with big corporations and government organizations, it’s keen to keep overall control for commercial reasons–“our source code is our only intellectual property,” said Barley. Microsoft also says that, as a proprietary company, it may not have an independent community looking out for flaws, but it has staff employed to exactly the same ends.

Novell’s Gaines, for one, isn’t concerned. “It’s good news. [The road show] validates Linux as a platform.”

Microsoft’s Get the Facts road show will be in Edinburgh on June 17, Manchester on June 29 and Newport on July 7.