Why Microsoft's attack on OpenOffice.org isn't "competition"

Microsoft still getting ugly with open source

It's rare to see anyone stick up for Microsoft's ugly tactics, but it's refreshing to see somebody trying to rally for Redmond — even if they are wrong.

Fellow NetworkWorld blogger Alan Shimel asks the question, "should Microsoft roll over and play dead to OpenOffice.org?" Shimel then says that Microsoft is just "competing" with OpenOffice.org.

Well, no. Microsoft has every right to "compete" with open source, but it's telling how they do so. With half-truths and misleading statements. What Microsoft leaves out of its attack ad is that most of the problems its customers cite are created by Microsoft itself.

What do I mean? During the ad, the customers cite problems with complex macros, or problems "sharing outside the company" when using OpenOffice.org. Why might that be? Because Microsoft has spent years trying to build a software ecosystem where its document format is the One True Format, and only compatible with Microsoft Office.

Note that Microsoft isn't touting the benefits of Office over OpenOffice.org in any real fashion — they're basically playing up the problems that organizations run into when moving away from Office due to the barriers Microsoft has set up in the first place.

And the claims that OpenOffice.org isn't supported are simply ridiculous. Sun, now Oracle, offer support. Novell offers support as well.

It's odd that Microsoft has chosen now to address OpenOffice.org. Maybe it's because Oracle has taken the helm, or maybe it's because Microsoft sees an opportunity to address OpenOffice.org while the community is regrouping around LibreOffice. Or maybe it's simply because Microsoft is feeling defensive of their old turf while they're being relatively unsuccessful in new markets, like mobile. The desktop office market is going to be around for a while, but it's a legacy market.

In short, Microsoft's being called out because its arguments against OpenOffice.org ring false. Microsoft could make a perfectly legitimate case against OpenOffice.org on real strengths of Office, but that wouldn't give the company the opportunity to sling FUD. It would have to make a nuanced case for the quality of Microsoft Office and its feature superiority over OpenOffice.org — but the truth is that most users don't care about many of those features.

So Microsoft hit below the belt instead with an insipid attack that is questionable, at best. It's little wonder that Microsoft is being ripped, because the ad is the tech equivalent of the political attack ads we're all so sick of. The company could do better, it simply chooses not to.

Does Microsoft have a right to compete with open source? Absolutely. Does it have the right to spread FUD and distribute smarmy attacks on its competition, without being called out? Sorry, no. If the company can't take the high road, it should expect to be called out for taking the low road.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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