2006: Time to plan your company's escape from Microsoft

This is the year to plan your company's great escape. The window of opportunity to fly from Microsoft's proprietary cage is open wider than ever before.

Two facts lead me to this conclusion:

  1. Microsoft Corp. (MS) is releasing a slew of product updates, including a new client operating system and Office 12, this year. Generally, those products will be more complex and expensive than their predecessors.
  2. Escaping vendor lock-in is number one reason IT managers switch to Linux and open source software (OSS) and the primary barrier to Linux/OSS adoption, according to a new SearchOpenSource.com survey of almost 150 IT managers.

By my calculations, one plus two equals an opportunity to break free of Microsoft's proprietary applications and operating system.

Why is being locked in to MS a problem? The simple answer is that being tied to a proprietary app and operating system prevents companies from using products and platforms that could be the least costly and most effective for their organizations.

Lock-in has other ramifications. One is being tied to a vendor’s upgrade schedule, which means having to wait for upgrades and being forced to upgrade when support for an older product is dropped. So, users may not be able to quickly adopt technologies that competitors are using. Lock-in marries your company to a vendor, and you’re in trouble if that vendor falters financially or technologically, raises prices and so on.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not pushing a wholesale sacking of every Microsoft application. That may not be appropriate for every business. Sure, it worked just great for Ernie Ball, a major guitar products manufacturer, but every company is different.

But, if ever there was a right time to evaluate Linux and applications that run on Linux, it's 2006. Most IT shops will be testing new Microsoft products, so why not measure them against the alternatives?

Testing Linux apps is not hard to do. Linux runs well on older servers, and free evaluation downloads are available for Linux distributions and almost all apps that run on Linux. There's little to lose and much to gain in making a Linux-versus-Windows comparison.

I think this is the right time to compare Linux-based and Windows-based apps for another reason. Up until 2005, there were many gaps in the apps-for-Linux line-up. Those gaps are gone, according to my own observations, our survey and my recent conversations with Linux leaders like Red Hat's new CTO Brian Stevens.

Let's take a quick look at Microsoft's roster of new releases. SQLServer 5 came out in 2005 and is being widely tested by its constituency. In late 2006, we should see Windows Vista, the new client operating system formerly called Longhorn. The 2006 lineup also includes Office 12, Exchange 12, Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager 3.0, Compute Cluster Server 2003, Small Business Server 2003 R2 (release 2), and Storage Server R2.

That's a lot of apps, but there are comparable applications for Linux, both proprietary and open source, for each one. Trying to name them all will put me in flames, because I'll miss some IT pros’ favorites. Here are a couple of examples:

  • There are dozens of cluster server alternatives from such vendors as IBM Corp., Penguin Computing, Scali Inc., Oracle Corp. and many others.
  • Linux-friendly alternatives to Microsoft SQLServer 5.0 database include MySQL (OSS), Pervasive PostgreSQL (OSS); Ingres (OS); Oracle (proprietary); and Sybase (proprietary).

As for other applications, there are many. Since Linux started grabbing market share from Unix, the majority of Unix application vendors have ported their apps to Linux.

Even the mighty Microsoft desktop suite, Office, and Windows client operating system have Linux foes. Try out OpenOffice.org 2.0 (OSS) or Xandros office suites and Red Hat Fedora or SuSE desktop platforms. I know that users are fearful about losing MS Office files and file sharing, but the Linux alternatives have leaped the file-sharing hurdle.

While recent advances in Linux business desktop products put them on par with Microsoft's new offerings, they are both less complex and costly. They're also more modular, so you don't have to buy or use/install/administer more features than you need.

Not having to buy more than you need? That's a strange concept for Microsoft shops. Why not ponder that idea each time you reboot your Windows desktop or server? That's a lot of pondering time, time you could spend planning an IT life free of lock-in.

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