Microsoft 'indoctrinates' Best Buy workers with anti-Linux 'lies'

Microsoft (MFST) is "indoctrinating" Best Buy (BBY) workers to sell its highly anticipated Windows 7 operating system using outright lies about the performance of open-source competitor Linux, according to Linux experts and at least one Best Buy employee who has seen the alleged Microsoft training slides.

"Linux does not support many common applications and online services like iTunes, Zune, Quicken, Photoshop, and Office 2007," asserts one slide in the now-leaked Microsoft ExpertZone training module designed for Best Buy employees preparing to sell Windows 7, which will be released in October. Another slide calls the statement "Linux is safer than Windows," a "myth."

But when I went into my local Best Buy on Houston Street in New York on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I was informed that the chain does not carry Linux-equipped laptops or net-books. So why would Microsoft be teaching Best Buy employees to counsel customers to avoid Linux? Why indeed.

Some Linux experts are charging Microsoft with deliberately "indoctrinating" Best Buy employees to misinform the public about the relative merits of Windows 7 and Linux. Linux, they say, can do most everything Windows 7 can, and is actually cheaper and more reliable. And of course, Linux advocates point out the fact that their operating system is mostly immune to many of the bugs, spyware, and viruses that have caused so much havoc on Windows machines and servers around the world.

"This is the usual thing that Microsoft does, but they've really taken it to an extreme now," Christopher Lemire, a Houston, Texas-based computer programmer told me in a phone interview. "They're really attacking Linux this time," said Lemire, a self-avowed open-source supporter who blogged about the Microsoft slides Saturday. "They're always coming up with new tactics."

"It's just lies and indoctrination," Lemire said.

"A lot of the features that show up in Microsoft products originated in Apple or Linux products," Lemire added, pointing to tabbed browsing, which appeared in Microsoft's Internet Explorer well after Firefox and Apple's Safari. Lemire also points to applications like Skype which is "the ultimate audio and video" solution for Linux, he says.

Other pro-Linux bloggers blasted the slides as well.

"Don't believe the corporate disinformation from Redmond and the Madison Ave. advertising executives," another pro-Linux blogger at Freedom and Linux wrote Saturday. "Linux does everything Microsoft does...except get infected on a routine basis by trojans and spyware and adware and viruses."

The slides were leaked by a self-described Best Buy worker in Hamilton, Ohio, who posted them to his Photobucket account over the weekend under the handle "GodOfGrunts." I called the only Best Buy in Hamilton, but the employee who answered did not know anyone who went by that handle currently on shift. Thus, DailyFinance has not been able independently verify the authenticity of the leaked Microsoft slides. That effort is ongoing.

A spokesperson for Microsoft's Worldwide Rapid Response Team, run by PR firm Waggener Edstrom, said Microsoft was "not able to offer confirmation of the authenticity of the slides at this time."

In New York, however, Best Buy's own employees acknowledge that Windows machines are more vulnerable to viruses than Linux machines. "See, that's the thing with Linux," a Best Buy salesman, whom I will not identify in order to protect his job, told me. "With Linux, you don't have to worry about viruses and all that. With Windows, you absolutely have to get all the anti-virus software."

And yet, on the Microsoft training slides, under a section entitled "Get the facts straight," Microsoft calls the statement "Linux is safer than Windows" a "myth."

In fact, the slides must be viewed against the broader backdrop of the looming battle between Microsoft and its rivals -- including Apple and Google -- over the very future of computing itself. In essence, Microsoft is trying to prepare the battlefield for the day when Linux may present a viable threat to its stranglehold on the operating system market. That time is coming sooner than most people realize.

"Linux for consumers is coming, and Microsoft wants to delay that while they figure out what their strategy is going to be," said one Linux programmer, who was granted anonymity because he spent several years working for Microsoft, and also so as not to damage his career prospects. The programmer called much of the content in the slides "puffery" but added that right now for the average user, Microsoft's operating systems are in fact easier to manage than Linux.

"While not 100 percent true, most of the slides are mostly true right now for the average customer," he said.

In particular, Microsoft is readying its defenses against the prospect of Chrome, Google's forthcoming web-based operating system -- a platform built on top of Linux. "How many of the statements in the slides will be true when Chrome appears?" the Linux programmer asked, somewhat rhetorically.

So why is Microsoft training Best Buy employees to bad-mouth Linux? It's not about what's in the store today, it's about what's in consumers' minds when they return to the store in one year. And the last thing Microsoft wants is for consumers to consider Linux a viable alternative to Windows 7.

Maybe my salesman at Best Buy didn't get the memo.

Clarification: The second paragraph of this piece implies that Linux supports iTunes, Zune, Quicken, Photoshop, and Office 2007; while some Linux users can use those programs with the help of additional software, it is the case that Linux does not offer out-of-the-box, native support for these programs. The slide referred to in the second paragraph above is an an example of Microsoft's effort to discredit Linux, but not an example of a clear inaccuracy.

Update: Microsoft has confirmed the existence of these slides; click here for an update on the story.

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