Microsoft paying for its facts?

by Matt Asay

Mary Jo Foley has an interesting post today about Microsoft paying IDC to research Linux TCO and tweak that research to Microsoft's advantage. The "facts" came out in court documents filed for an Iowa antitrust case against Microsoft.

When the results didn't come out in Microsoft's favor, it voted to bury them:
In an e-mail dated Nov. 1, 2002, Kevin Johnson, now the head of Windows, wrote: "I don't like it to be public on the doc that we sponsored it because I don't think the outcome is as favorable as we had hoped. I just don't like competitors using it as ammo against us. It is easier if it doesn't mention that we sponsored it."
Before we cry 'Foul!', however, let's ask ourselves honestly a simple question, "Would we have done the same?" I think the answer is "Yes," nine times out of 10. If Linux Vendor X commissioned a study and the study wasn't favorable to Linux, I'm betting that X would either bury the report or certainly take their name off of it. This is part of competing: you present your best case and defer to your competition to present your worst case.

In some ways, though, as Mary Jo says, it just doesn't matter. This is ancient (circa 2002 :-) history.

But the problem is that Microsoft continues to use the bought-and-paid-for research in its Get the Facts campaign. Maybe it feels the "facts," however gathered, are, well, factual. Or maybe it feels that since it admitted to paying for the research, it's for the buyer (reader of the facts) to beware, and not its job to delineate the "facts" lineage.

I don't know. I do know that as a products company, Microsoft does a very good job. I don't like its strategies fairly often (like this one), but I respect its products. I think Microsoft competes very well on the "facts" of its products' strengths. Those really should be the primary facts it sells. Not this anti-Linux FUD.


Simon Hibbs
2007-02-02 11:38:23
I don't see what the big deal is either. The MS memo only mentions not adding the MS name to the document, but you talk about 'tweaking the research'. So the only 'fact' they buried was MS sponsorship. No interference with the actual data or conclusion of the report, or any attempt to suppress the report.

I don't really see a problem. MS is under no obligation to hand ammunition over to it's competitors.

2007-02-02 11:43:34
Well, I think it does cast a verifiable shadow on their facts campaign - even though any other sponsor of such research might have done the same thing.

To me it says that the research, which was suspicious in the first place, is essentially a set of marketing bullets that indicate the pluses for a product, kind of like those product comparison matrices on websites comparing features. To me, that's not research at all. It's a veiled attempt at sounding credible.

I would say that it's not all Microsoft's fault as well. In this world of increasing hearsay, technical media companies really have to be careful, especially because Microsoft's billions protect its monopolies in the media as well as in other areas.

Steve R.
2007-02-02 16:25:08
If they bought it, and it was actual 'research' they could either toss it or release it. My ethical sense says that releasing it 'as is' with their name on it, or completely supressing it were the only viable options. They paid for it, it is theirs, but releasing it with no attribution is unethical and misleading. Frankly, anyone who actually understands such studies, who reads it, will know that Microsoft sponsorship shold not affect the outcome either way. It might even help their image - release it with their name on it with no fanfare and anyone who does find it can't really slam them with it - no 'cover up' and no shading of results. If they have to publicly respond to the findings (as a result of a competitor using it against them) MS can then issue a release saying 'Yah, we funded the study and we're working on the areas where it showed we needed to improve, because we are committed to honest feedback and providing value to consumers...' Even the marketroids are happy.