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Q&A: Microsoft's Linux strategist Martin Taylor

He sees Novell outpacing Red Hat as the preferred Linux distribution

By Carol Sliwa
September 16, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Martin Taylor recently marked his one-year anniversary as Microsoft Corp.'s chief Linux strategist. Taylor, whose official title is general manager of platform strategy, recently spoke with Computerworld about his first year in that job. This is Part 1 of that interview. Part 2 is available online.
What are some of the lessons you learned? A year ago, we had a pretty direct strategy. We really [wanted] to go dial down the emotion, dial down the rhetoric, have a more fact-oriented approach and dial up the pragmatic analysis of solutions. ... I initially thought that people were really lining up Windows and Linux side by side, and they'd say, "Hey, Linux gives us better TCO [total cost of ownership]." Actually, it's less about that. What they know is, "Hey, we can save money getting off Unix or off of RISC." So the question is, "Do we go to Linux or do we go to Windows?" That's where more of the comparison comes from. When I talk to customers and they say, "Hey, we can get better TCO with Linux," they're not always saying better than Windows. They're saying better than Unix.
Any other surprises? The surprising thing, a little bit, is how predictable our conversations are now with customers. ... One other thing that's come up more over the last 12 months is this notion of indemnification [against patent and copyright claims]. More and more customers are asking us, "Help me understand what you do from an indemnification perspective versus HP or IBM or Red Hat or Novell." That's weighing into decisions more and more. ... Customers began introducing it and asking me about it more than I was introducing it to them. And I began to say, "Wow. We really stand behind our technology in a pretty aggressive way. We should make sure that we get credit for that compared to Linux in many ways." And it's actually been something that tips the scales sometimes when people are on the fence.

Another thing that shocked me this year was the commercialization of Linux ... because it allows us to talk more in those commercial terms. When you're getting something for free, [vendors] get a lot of "get out of jail free" cards. You see [people saying], "Oh well. We didn't pay for it anyway, so we shouldn't care too much about security. We'll fix it ourselves. Oh, there's no regression testing. Who cares? We'll do that ourselves." But once you start writing a check, you now have demands, and rightfully so.
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