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Microsoft vs Linux

Software giant prepares security assault on rival

Microsoft is preparing a major PR assault over Windows' perceived security failings in which it will criticise Linux for taking too long to fix bugs.

In a sign that the inroads made by the open source community are starting to rattle the software giant, Microsoft has hired several analysts to review how fast holes are patched in the open source software and is expected to announce that Windows compares favourably.

The strategy, called 'Days of Risk', measures the number of days it takes programmers to release a public patch after a vulnerability is revealed. While high-profile holes in Linux and associated software tend to be swiftly dealt with, less prominent problems — which could, potentially, be just as damaging — can take weeks or even months to appear.

Microsoft's aim is to undermine critics and place a question mark over Linux's security by revealing that, on average, Windows poses less of a security risk. By turning attention away from its own software bugs while at the same time launching several security initiatives, it hopes to be able to tackle one of main worries businesses have with its proprietary operating system.

Windows security is a stick Linux advocates constantly use to beat Microsoft — made all the more relevant following the extremely damaging Blast worm and SoBig virus that spread rapidly thanks to vulnerabilities in Microsoft's software.

Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer is known to have made security a top priority. Last week, the company announced a reward program aimed at bringing virus writers to justice. Although it is unlikely to reap any tangible results, the message was clear: Microsoft is taking security seriously.

A spokeswoman for Linux vendor Red Hat was undaunted by the prospect of a full-frontal security assault by Microsoft, however. "We just don't have viruses," she told us. "Our problems are located and fixed more proactively. Because the source code is open, we find there is a patch before there is even a problem."

She also denied there was an issue of professionalism: "We have dozens of Fortune 500 customers we have to report to. We would never let a bug go unfixed."

However, Microsoft is thought to have pulled out all the stops to prove its security case. That means it should have something more tangible than the questionable reports it has sponsored in the past in an attempt to show Windows has a comparable or lower total cost of ownership than Linux.

Microsoft failed to respond to our questions, although its law and corporate affairs spokeswoman told us that she didn't think the company intended to launch a security attack on Linux and that it would be "odd" if the company used strong comparative information to state its case. It would be odder if it didn't.


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