The TCO question: Can Linux beat Microsoft? Part 2

IT shops are warming up to Linux for a good reason: Linux offers companies an alternative to the licensing fees and other drawbacks of proprietary software. However, many IT pros caution against open-source's "hidden" costs and time-consuming implementations. The ultimate cost of either choice, they say, may depend on the needs and resources of an individual business. In the first part of this Q&A, SearchEnterpriseLinux.com talked to three Linux professionals -- Dirk Coetzee, Rodd Clarkson and Mike O'Donnell -- about the total cost of ownership (TCO) of Linux and open-source versus proprietary software. Here, they discuss the way Linux is being used in real-world applications.

Can you give some examples of situations where business or application needs drive your company (or the company where you serve as a consultant) either toward Linux or toward Windows? We are deploying a number of Linux servers to run Java-based applications, to replace Sendmail servers that ran previously on HP-UX, replace NIS (network information service) masters/slaves [and] replace some HP-UX desktops that are EOL. How likely is...

it Linux will make inroads on the desktop while there are compatibility problems with Microsoft Word and Excel applications? I'm using Linux on the desktop, so I know it's ready. It's missing a few things that Windows has got, but it's also got a few things that Windows doesn't. I can easily do all my day-to-day work on a Linux desktop, but it's important for organizations to look at their needs and address them accordingly. One word of caution (and it probably comes a little too late): due consideration should always be given to getting yourself too dependent on any platform, because each has its strengths. Far better than a single-platform environment that fails to meet some of your needs is a multi-platform environment that plays well together (and this is where Windows fails).

Microsoft's file format lock-in is an issue, but instead of handling their ever-evolving formats, it's better for companies to understand that the only thing these file formats do is lock them to Microsoft so they can be overcharged for software.

Too many companies have put all their eggs in one basket, but I think they are starting to realize what cost this has to them and are re-evaluating. Products like OpenOffice.org and StarOffice are giving organizations the chance to break away from a reliance on Office (while still using Windows) and allowing them to consider better value propositions, like Terminal Server environments. Can you give some examples of situations where business or application needs drive your company (or the company where you serve as a consultant) either toward Linux or toward Windows?
Most companies in South Africa go for Linux because of the benefits in cost or for [its] legendary security. Linux servers are still used in preparatory situations and as back-office systems. This is when they will require consultants. Microsoft consultants are generally used for huge Active Directory deployments; otherwise, IT managers' general perception is that it is Microsoft, therefore it is easy to configure/use and internal engineers can learn and deploy it. How likely is it Linux will make inroads on the desktop while there are compatibility problems with Microsoft Word and Excel applications?
Highly unlikely to migrate to our desktop. How likely is it Linux will make inroads on the desktop while there are compatibility problems with Microsoft Word and Excel applications?
Apart from compatibility issues with Word/Excel/Outlook, there is no integration between applications (i.e., right click and e-mail to recipient, etc.). Has your company migrated from Microsoft Office to StarOffice? If so, could you describe the experience? If not, why not? If your company doesn't use Microsoft Office, what does it use?
As a solution provider we evaluated StarOffice versus Microsoft Office. Once again, integration issues were the most predominant factor in not migrating. Having said that, StarOffice came close to being rolled out -- it would have saved our client over two million South African rands [around 240,000 US dollars]. Has your company migrated from Microsoft Office to StarOffice? If so, could you describe the experience? If not, why not? If your company doesn't use Microsoft Office, what does it use?
We've moved to OpenOffice.org. We don't have a lot of need for an Access-style database application, so OpenOffice.org is perfect. If the need arises, StarOffice could always be added without any fuss.

OpenOffice.org is fantastic. We recently did a Multimedia CD-ROM for a group that produced all the content in either Word Perfect or Word. They used Word Perfect themselves, but they had other groups doing some of the writing, thus Word was also used.

I wrote some scripts to process these files (already converted to HTML) for inclusion in the CD-ROM. All up, there were about 500 pages and about 2,000 images, so automating the process made changes to design far simpler. The biggest issue was working around the different HTML used in these documents, especially the Word documents.

We're now working on the next version of the CD-ROM, and this time I've got them using OpenOffice.org. It's free, so the client can supply it to all the other groups that contribute, and the HTML code it creates is far cleaner. Best of all, we've got a consistent tool for authoring the content that doesn't involve any cost to those having to use it. So far, everything is going very well and we haven't had any support issues [that] I'm aware of. Can you give some examples of situations where business or application needs drive your company (or the company where you serve as a consultant) either toward Linux or toward Windows?
We develop Web sites, multimedia and do graphic design, so we use the tools that are right for the job. Most of our work isn't affected by the tools others use. Do you feel that more IT decision makers are considering Linux and other alternatives to Windows? Why?
Anyone who isn't considering all the options isn't making the right decisions. I think that a lot of decision makers are considering Linux, and many are very interested.


Click here for part 1 of SearchEnterpriseLinux.com's interview, "The TCO question: Can Linux beat Microsoft?" Do you feel that more IT decision makers are considering Linux and other alternatives to Windows? Why?
IT decision makers are generally yesterday's technology gurus, who have no clue of what modern-day Linux has to offer. These people are dead-set in their Novell/Microsoft solutions, and still under the impression that open-source solutions are insecure and open to a wide variety of bugs. Developers will not take responsibility for freely distributed applications, and OSS has a higher TCO. Do you feel that more IT decision makers are considering Linux and other alternatives to Windows? Why?
Yes, we are deploying more Linux this year than ever before.

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