Articles: Get the facts - The real ones

Kristian Fiskerstrand's blog

Microsoft Inc. is running a campaign they name "Get The Facts". In summary this is a way to try to stop the trend of migrating from Microsoft products to GNU/Linux. Let us have a look at it.
Added: 2006-02-08 12:15:32 - Modified: 2006-03-09 17:23:32 - Level: Beginner
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Get the facts

The introduction for the campaign says, and I quote "As you weigh the costs and risks of Windows and Linux, consider this: More and more independent analysts and leading companies find that Windows Server System outperforms Linux on TCO, reliability, security, and indemnification. Get the facts, and make the decision that's right for your business."

An interesting observation to this is that although the analysis is performed by independent sources, they are often sponsored by Microsoft or an affiliate. I agree completely with the last sentence "Get the facts, and make the decision that's right for your business", but get them yourself, and don't trust a single source of information.

Now don't get me wrong, Microsoft has its place and in many situations it can be profitable to use Microsoft applications. Their collaboration suites have potential and management of many computers can be relatively easy. At least in theory. The problems come if you try to use a non-Microsoft system in addition to the windows computer, as Microsoft for one keep their communication formats and document formats for themselves, as well as changing the application programmer interface (API) constantly with little documentation.

I stopped using Microsoft software completely several years ago. My primary operating system (OS) is GNU/Linux, usually one of Mandriva or Gentoo. I have gotten several of my friends to use either GNU/Linux or Mac OS X, which has at least reduced my time spent on technical support.

One thing I got out of doing on a regular basis is formatting and re-installing the applications. There are several reasons for this. The move towards high-speed Internet connections has brought with it routers that introduce firewalls in home systems, as opposed to direct connection through analogue phone lines or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN). There has also been more focus on computer security, and product-layer firewalls are more common than before. There has also been a growth in alternatives for free antivirus(AV) solutions and anti-spyware applications. More about securing a windows sytem can be read at secure-my-internet.com if you are looking for more information, it isn't the primay concern of this article.

Microsoft Windows itself has matured nicely, and the move to the New Technology (NT) codebase changed many user's experience. But still applications such as Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook bring constant agony for its users.

But Microsoft's greatest problem isn't necessarily Microsoft itself, but its users. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Asking the average computer user which web browser they use tend to bring up a confused look. With a followup question it usually brings the conversation in the direction of something such as "OH, The Internet, The blue E on the desktop", referring to the Internet Explorer icon.

Due to Internet Explorer's interaction with the Operating System (Windows) this lack of knowledge can be quite damaging for the system. Alternative applications, such as Mozilla Foundation's browser Firefox run in application space and has potentially less damage for the system than Internet Explorer, which traditionally has had problems e.g. with its ActiveX extension features.

But the Get the Facts campaign is about servers, why all this about clients and users? Well, that is what the server is intended to provide services for, and hence it is quite related.

In order to provide interoperability between different businesses, or between different people in general, it is important to have a common understanding of some fundamentals such as language. Have you ever tried to get directions while being lost in a foreign country where you don't know the language? In the computer world languages are called protocols.

When you visit a website your web browser is talking the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) with the web server. When sending an email using Mozilla Thunderbird it is talking Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) with the mailserver, and when receiving emails they are talking in either the Post Office Protocol (POP3) or Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). These are protocols defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to ensure interoperability between different Mail User Agents (MUA) and Mail Transfer Agents (MTA).

The windows file sharing protocol is called Server Message Block (SMB). An open source implementation is developed by Samba. As Microsoft didn't provide proper documentation on the SMB protocol, the developers had to look at traffic between windows computers in order to figure out what everything meant, a procedure commonly referred to as Reverse Engineering.

One of the areas that Microsoft has problems with in the European Union currently is its Multimedia Message Service (MMS) and file formats such as Windows Media Video (WMV) which is difficult to reverse engineer and changes rapidly. The document format used by Microsoft Word (.doc) has also been focused on lately as the alternative OpenDocument Format (ODF) gains monumentum by being used in productivity suites such as OpenOffice.org and AbiWord.

The Open Document Format as well as Adobe's Portable Document format(PDF) are examples of ways to ensure interoperability between systems. OpenOffice.org provide its use for Windows users, GNU/Linux users, Macintosh users as well as FreeBSD and Solaris users. In a real emergency you can unzip the file and read the plain-text extensible markup language (XML) files at your will in any text editor, although then without the intended formatting.

If a prospect (potential customer) can't read the proposal you are most likely losing the sale. If a customer can't browse the online catalog of an internet based shopping cart he will find another store. Hopefully this has provided you with some reasons to consider interoperability when, amongst other things considering the Total Cost of Ownership of running a service.

Through special programs from Microsoft it is possible to gain access to Microsoft's communication protocols and document formats. The problem that rise is that you generally can't use it in Open Source applications due to its licensing and in order to avoid Intellectual Property claims.

Lets get back to the Get The Facts campaign. Microsoft list several topics on microsoft.com let us walk through them one by one and have a look at it.

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