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Was Microsoft’s ad really misleading?

Sep 01, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxMicrosoft

* Microsoft’s Linux comparison ad taken to task

By now you’ve probably heard that the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) called Microsoft on the carpet over its “Get the Facts” advertising campaign touting the advantages of using Windows servers over Linux hosts. Specifically, the ASA found one ad, in which Microsoft claimed Linux was more expensive in the long run, to be misleading.

“Same old, same old,” I can hear you saying. Isn’t all advertising (and marketing) playing fast and loose with “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”? Maybe.

But what those with an ax to grind about Windows don’t tell you is that Redmond submitted this ad to the ASA before running it – and it was approved. Only after the fact – and only after Microsoft had already stopped running the ad – were objections raised.

The ad in question compared file and print services of a Windows server running on an Intel platform with that of a Linux host running on an IBM mainframe. Now anyone who thinks an IBM z900 mainframe is comparable hardware to a PC server utilizing two 900-MHz Intel Xeon CPUs certainly doesn’t deserve to be involved in any enterprise’s IT operation. But the ASA held that readers could be confused. While the ad’s comparison of the cost per megabit per second of the two platforms was accurate, the ASA felt that Microsoft should have gone out of its way to indicate that an IBM mainframe costs considerably more than a Dell (or HP) server. Well, duh!

The fact is that IBM is heavily advertising to businesses that running Linux on their z900 mainframes is a good way to structure their IT facilities. No mention in those ads, of course, that price-performance-wise any old Pentium 3-based computer is better. But I haven’t heard about the ASA calling IBM to task.

There are reasons why having Linux hosts on your network is a good thing. There are also reasons why having Microsoft servers on your network is a good thing. The nebulous concept of total cost of ownership should be far down the list when comparing the pros and cons. Microsoft’s ad was outrageous, it’s true. The claim was based on dubious findings. But was anyone really confused? I sincerely hope not. In fact, I’ll go one step farther: if there’s anyone in your IT organization who claims this ad confused them, why are they still in your organization?