Senior Microsoft figures are seeking to clarify the company's position on open source after one of its top engineers told an audience he believed open source would imperil the software industry.

Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jim Grayl was recently speaking on a panel at the Software Development Conference & Expo West 2004 when he said: "The thing I'm puzzled by is how there will be a software industry if there’s open source."

In what is seen as a reaction to these words, Microsoft wheeled out two top regional executives in Auckland last week to help right some "misperceptions" about the company's attitude to open-source software.

Peter Moore, the company's Asia-Pacific and greater China public sector general manager, and Chris Sharp, platform strategy director, joined Microsoft New Zealand's chief spokesman on open source issues, Brett Roberts, at a media briefing. Auckland was the latest stop on a Pacific-wide tour by the two Singapore-based executives.

Roberts prefaced a presentation by Moore by saying he was convinced there was plenty of confusion in the market about Microsoft's view of open source.

"It's a conversation that quickly lurches towards the religious," Roberts said.

Moore, a nine-year veteran of Microsoft Australia, hoped he would come across in an "unemotional, balanced way". Despite being a former CTO, he admitted to having no Linux experience.

But he was aware, he said, of the "crisis of complexity and value" that IT management was confronting, which meant operational costs were consuming IT budgets, reducing the capacity of organizations to make new IT investments.

And in what might be a first for a senior Microsoft executive, he acknowledged that Linux is not going to be a passing fad.

"Linux is going to be part of the future. It's going to be like Unix was."

Moore produced figures collected from websites of popular Linux distributions that he said showed the comparative security performance of open source operating systems and Windows. For each of Red Hat, Mandrake and Debian, their websites reported more than double the number of security advisories of Windows 2000 and XP, Moore said, and while the Linux security advisory rate was rising, that for Windows was falling.

For Moore, that's evidence of the fallacy that open source code is inherently more secure than the commercial variety because it is seen by more eyes.

"Security is an industry issue," Moore said, "and we're getting better."

When it comes to the comparative price-performance of open source and Windows systems, Moore quoted IDC figures which apparently debunk the notion that Linux wins. For file and print serving, and network and security services, Windows has a five-year total cost of ownership advantage of up to 30 percent over Linux, according to Moore. In simple Web application delivery, however, Linux has a 5 percent advantage.