The Seattle Times: Microsoft: Plugged in to Microsoft's biggest rival: "The first step was to ask customers what they saw in Linux. Taylor said the company talked to 6,000 customers around the world. The company also created the Linux lab to run the software and compare it to Windows.
Taylor recruited former IBM Linux advocate Bill Hilf to run the lab. Hilf keeps Microsoft abreast of the competition by running a stack of machines with about 30 different versions of Linux. He runs tests on the systems himself, uses them to explain the software to Microsoft colleagues.
Hilf is among 18 members of Taylor's team who work just across the street from Ballmer's building, in a row of unassuming offices decorated with the occasional Linux penguin logo. Taylor also hires a rotating mix of Linux experts for different projects, using an employment agency to recruit people.
Hilf said the lab helps Microsoft better understand its customers, many of whom run Linux alongside Windows. He also said the company isn't being sneaky -- he makes no secret of his identity when he buys the software and calls Linux vendors for help."