Microsoft and Best Buy Gang Up On Linux

The media and blogosphere are all in a tizzy over leaked screenshots allegedly showing that Microsoft is providing Best Buy with 'anti-Linux' training materials. You say 'anti-Linux', I say 'pro-Windows'. You say 'Linux bashing', I say 'marketing'.

What is the big deal? News flash: Microsoft sells Windows. Microsoft is not interested in promoting rival operating systems and it has a vested interest in providing training and marketing collateral to any retailer that will listen if it will help boost sales of its operating systems and software products.

The backlash against this 'indoctrination' of Best Buy 'Linux assassins', or using 'mis-education' to 'bribe' Best Buy employees all sounds like simple Microsoft-bashing to me. Were these same journalists as incredulous or self-righteous about the misleading claims Apple has propagated about Windows Vista or the UAC (user account control) feature?

Most of the reports about this Microsoft / Best Buy anti-Linux collusion seems to center around the veracity of the claims being made. Pro-Linux Anti-Microsoft users are quick to point out that you can run World of Warcraft on Linux...if you run it in WINE- a Windows emulator that runs on Linux. They also point out that there are chat clients, and webcam software, and printer drivers- you just have to know where to get them and how to install them.

To quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, "ay, there's the rub." See, these things are possible...for the technogeek crowd that loves Linux. Linux is getting easier and more mainstream as time goes on, but we're talking about Best Buy customers.

No offense intended to Best Buy customers, but they tend to buy a computer system like they buy a microwave or a dishwasher. They just want a computing 'appliance' to set on the desk and connect to the Internet. They don't want to know how it works or take it apart to modify it manually.

Marketing, by its very nature, tends to distort things in favor of the product being marketed. Yes, there are rules about truth in advertising, but that doesn't prevent hyperbole and exaggeration. There are no rules to stop a vendor from cherry-picking the stats and features that make its products look good while tacitly ignoring the ways the competition has it beat. That's just marketing.

I understand completely why Microsoft would develop these materials (although I do think that listing the availability of Windows Live products and services as a purchasing criteria is a bit of wishful thinking on Microsoft's part). It makes Windows 7 and it wants to make sure it sells as much of its software as possible. That seems like a sound business plan.

What is a little more perplexing is Best Buy's angle in all of this. Best Buy isn't a Microsoft outlet. To the contrary, Microsoft outlets will soon be competing with Best Buy. Why should Best Buy be involved in pushing one vendor or operating system over another?

I have given this some thought and I had an epiphany. Picture a Best Buy store. You've all been in one and they all look relatively the same so you should be able to take part in this exercise. Now, envision yourself walking through Best Buy and perusing the software aisles. OK. Now, picture the Linux software section...oh wait.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Right! There isn't one. Microsoft's angle is to sell more of its own products. Best Buy's angle is to sell more of... any products. It is a tad incestuous, but Best Buy has a vested interest in promoting products that lead to repeat customers. Linux is open source and most of the applications used by Linux-users are open source. There is no money in that for Best Buy.

Just to throw a bone to the Microsoft-bashing crowd, it could also be argued that Best Buy has a vested interest on the service side. Thousands of customers hire the Best Buy Geek Squad to help them install and configure their Windows-based systems. Thousands of customers bring their systems in to Best Buy to have malware removed and systems restored. Pushing Linux could virtually put the Geek Squad out of business.

I fully expect the legions of Microsoft-bashers to jump all over me as some sort of Microsoft fanboy for daring to defend what amounts to little more than the decades-old practice of retail channel marketing. I have good news for those who feel that this pro-Windows training crosses the line: I have shopped at Best Buy and I can never actually find anyone to help me with anything. So, it seems to me that there is little chance of this information ever reaching the masses.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice, and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

This story, "Microsoft and Best Buy Gang Up On Linux" was originally published by PCWorld.

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