In many parts of the US, the Best Buy chain is truly the best
bricks-and-mortar option for those looking for electronics and related
products. That is seen by many as a rather sad state of affairs, but such
is life; we can't all live in Akihabara. It is not a place where one normally
goes in search of technical expertise. Recent reports that Microsoft has
made an attempt to make the situation even worse should not be particularly
surprising - or concerning.
Recently, a Best Buy employee encountered
some Microsoft training materials aimed at Best Buy sales people.
Surprisingly enough, Microsoft would like these sales representatives to
believe that Windows is a better operating system than Linux; Microsoft
would also be most gratified if those representatives would convince their
customers of the same. So it has put together a set of slides full of
easy-to-remember sales points and gotten Best Buy to use those slides as
So why is Windows better? Apparently it offers a "richer and more engaging
experience." It is, believe it or not, compatible with Windows, which is
seen as a good thing. There is, we're told, better support for cameras,
iPods, printers, and more. Windows Live stuff is not supported under
Linux; neither is World of Warcraft. Best Buy employees are to tell their
customers that Linux lacks
"authorized support," it takes a lot of time to maintain
and it doesn't offer "regular updates." There's no guarantee of security
updates; "Linux users are on their own." There are no "step-by-step
tutorials" for Linux.
Some of Microsoft's claims have merit: it is almost certainly true that
Windows users are more familiar with Windows than with Linux, for example.
Others are clearly false. It's amusing to see the return of the "no
support" FUD line - though it must be said that the support options
available to an end user who buys a Linux-based netbook from Best Buy are
limited. The "Geek Squad" is likely to prove a disappointing resource for
confused Linux users. There is no mention that World of Warcraft can be
run under WINE, but one should also bear in mind that there's probably no
end of WoW junkies who have no interest in trying to figure out a Wine
installation. Cameras work fine with Linux, as do music players, and
getting better all the time. The security claims still come across as
laughable. It is clear that Microsoft is clearly playing a
little loose with the truth here.
The response on the net has been strong; Microsoft's attempt at Best Buy
sales droid indoctrination appears to have touched a sensitive nerve. The
Linux community does, indeed, show a high level of sensitivity for this
kind of criticism. It has been years since Linux was dismissed as a toy
operating system which was not to be taken seriously, but, perhaps, we
still have some sensitive toes left from those days.
But think about it: it's a rare corporation which does not attempt to make
its products look better than those of its competitors. It's also a rare
company which does not stretch the truth occasionally in the process. Lies
and FUD are not justified, but they are normal. The fact that these
techniques are being turned against Linux at this level is not particularly
surprising. It just says that Microsoft sees Linux as a true competitive
threat in need of the usual competitive response. Linux is being treated
like just another competing product on the market.
Much effort has gone into publicizing and debunking Microsoft's training
slides. It is worthwhile to shine light on this kind of activity, and it
is worthwhile to correct claims that are not true. But Microsoft's silly
training slides are not a cause for great concern, hang-wringing, or
outrage. They are just another ham-fisted attempt to fight off an
increasingly worrisome competitor. As long as Microsoft keeps its fight on
this level, we have little to worry about.
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