Some of the big boys of enterprise computing seem to feel threatened by free software. Why else would they go out of their way to drag their less commercial competitors' names through the mud?

For example, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) appears to be scared stiff about free alternatives to its market-dominating office software. In a marketing-flavored video published last week, Microsoft shows business customers explaining how switching to the supposedly free OpenOffice suite ended up costing them more, because even free software needs professional support. Moreover, users are purportedly scared stiff by the switch -- it's a whole new environment to learn, you know.

Those objections to OpenOffice may be true in isolated cases. However, I find myself more confused by the "ribbon" interface in recent version of Microsoft Office than by the more traditional icon lineups of OpenOffice. Maybe it's because I'm a grumpy old fart who once got used to the look and feel of Office in the late 1990s; after all, OpenOffice does a fine job of emulating that experience. As for the support issue, I can assure you that Mr. Softy's products require support staff as well, and they're no cheaper than your average open-source specialist. On top of that, more resourceful users have a plethora of zero-dollar support options available to them. This complaint doesn't hold water.

Then again, OpenOffice is currently overseen by rival enterprise software outfit Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) -- and even Oracle doesn't see eye to eye with some of the OpenOffice crew. Many of its leaders are defecting to start a brand-new free office suite dubbed LibreOffice, and Oracle's open-source executives don't seem likely to support that effort in any way. In fact, Oracle's position appears to be that it's Oracle's way or the highway. That's not how you build a sustainable community out of the customers and developers Oracle got with the Sun Microsystems deal.

If that wasn't confusing enough, Microsoft is also attacking Oracle's semi-free Java platform as a major attack vector for virus and malware exploits. In this, Microsoft has allies: Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) security guru Marc Fossi notes that "since Java is both cross-browser and cross-platform, it can be appealing to attackers." The message: open platforms are bad for you.

On one hand, these attacks must create a lot of work for PR reps, lawyers, and sales people at open-source businesses Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), Citrix Systems (Nasdaq: CTXS), the Mozilla foundation, and all versions of the Open/Libre Office software. On the other, lashing out like this also serves to raise the free alternatives' visibility and legitimize them as viable business options. "Hey, Microsoft treats OpenOffice as a real competitor -- why shouldn't my company do the same?"

Would you settle for fewer cutting-edge features in exchange for free software and potentially cheap support? Would you invest in providers of such software? Discuss in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. This article, and everything else Anders writes, was composed on OpenOffice.org. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Microsoft and Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.