IT Professionals Don't Buy Microsoft Research & Development Hype
After talking with an IT manager for a sizable business in the construction industry in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, I have confirmed my suspicions about IT managers being smarter than Microsoft gives them credit for. Typically, they don't just buy the "Research and Development" hype that Microsoft puts out. When I asked about his view of trusting claims about R&D investments, using my own hypothetical company, he pointed to Microsoft as being a company whose R&D is of questionable value.
According to the manager, if I approached the company offering my Widgetware, and used my investments in R&D as a selling point, he could only take that into consideration if it stood alongside other positive information. In other words, simply going in, trying to sell Widgetware based on my R&D investments will likely get me laughed right out of the building. If, on the other hand, I can demonstrate that Widgetware works as advertised, that is, if other businesses can back up my claims on performance, etc., then I can point to my R&D investments as the foundation piece. That is, I can say, "we're here today because I invested wisely in R&D."
The manager didn't stop with that point. He actually used Microsoft as an example. This business is a serious Microsoft shop. The MIS crew is well-trained with Windows technology and have won awards in other media outlets for innovation in the technology arena. Yet, he was critical of Microsoft's well-known habit of allowing feature creep. He complained that they were adding features he doesn't care about to Office and other software. Against the backdrop of Microsoft's recent security failings, one might wonder if Microsoft should indeed shift their R&D budget around a bit.
This guy isn't alone. Several other experienced system administrators I've spoken with don't base their decisions on Microsoft's research and development. And they, too, are skeptical of the value of Microsoft's R&D efforts. According to David A. Wheeler's website, among others, Microsoft has not offered much in the way of innovation in the past twenty years. Even MS-DOS was a renamed QDOS. Most of the technology in Windows and other software is either purchased or imitated. Thus, when Microsoft or their partners claim that they spend over $6 billion a year in R&D, it's a bit difficult for most knowledgeable people to swallow.
Microsoft is pumping money into features people don't care about while their operating system - no, their whole computing platform - sits in the middle of the road like a wounded animal, unable to dodge the traffic of attackers and viruses. They invest money into advertising how they are improving computer security while the virus writers improve their efficiency daily, leaving users wondering what will hit them next - and how long it will take them to realize they've been hit. Say, wasn't it Bill Gates who was quoted as saying you don't upgrade to solve bugs? Hmmm...
This is very different from the libre software community. In the libre software community, most people know that there are stable and unstable versions of any given software distribution, be it Debian GNU/Linux or Firefox or gEdit. In the case of Debian, there is even a "testing" branch that sits between "unstable" and "stable". In going from unstable to stable, bugs get fixed and security vulnerabilities are addressed. This may or may not count as R&D. However, it is a vital difference between Microsoft's approach and that of the libre software community. Even if Microsoft's R&D fails to root out all the security issues, they still need to fix issues as they are discovered.
Here's the point. If Microsoft focused less on features people don't care about, and more on security and sound coding practices, then IT decision makers could buy their claims of heavy investment in Research and Development as worth listening to. Not that features are bad, but Microsoft ignores the more important issues the FOSS community addresses. If Microsoft took a step back and said, "We need to resolve these bugs", then the R&D issue might be usable as a selling point. Currently though, R&D as a selling point will only work with IT managers with little or no experience outside the Microsoft world. That's because they have no frame of reference.
If you're going to use Research and Development as a selling point, you need to have software that proves your R&D investments were wise. No amount of marketing literature, no degree of salesmanship, no positive-sounding words can cover up the fact that Microsoft's R&D does not ensure a secure computing platform. This brings us back to the trust issue I mentioned in a previous article. How can IT managers trust a company that has nothing more to show for its $6 billion investment in research and development than feature creep and security holes a monkey can crack?
The bottom line for GNU/Linux and libre software vendors is that they need to shed some light on Microsoft's marketing points for customers. Help customers understand that it makes little sense at all to invest heavily in a platform that makes them feel good, but locks them in and leaves them stranded in the middle of the road. Contrast Microsoft's investments in R&D with the interest that libre software developers take in providing safe, usable code. Contrast the features they pay for but don't need in the Microsoft world with the features they get but don't pay for, along with the added benefit of a more secure, stable GNU/Linux platform And yes, point out the numerous innovations brought about by the libre software community.
Note: you can find good information about libre software and innovation at
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