Linux not the savior for our economy

Reality check

You knew the argument had to come up sometime: survive the economic down turn by using open source to help you save money. Now Computer World's Steve J. Vaughan-Nichols makes that claim in 'Linux Will Save Us'. The title almost has religious overtones. I found Steve's article thanks to blog posts by Alan Shimel and Michael Farnum. Whether it's iPhones, Linux vs. Microsoft, or Macs vs. PCs, there's always a group who are so overly passionate about their favorite hammer that everything else looks like a nail. I've developed many products on Linux, Windows and some even on Macs, to know that taking your favorite technology too seriously creates other blind spots in your logic and decision making. That said, I can't claim I've never done the same, but hopefully I've learned from those experiences. (My picking on Apple is all in good fun, btw.)

Okay, now back to Steve's post about ditching Microsoft and switching to Linux. There's also the matter of practicality. Yep, Linux software is free, but Linux isn't. Especially converting to Linux. Converting could actually lead to laying off people on your IT staff to get the skills necessary to move to Linux. (I hate it when we refer to employees with impersonal phrases like retool or upgrade.) How about all those ASP.NET and SharePoint applications and the developers who created and support them? And despite up and coming Exchange clones, it's still arguable there isn't really an Exchange replacement that can support large enterprises. An you'll still need to pay for support from Red Hat, Novell or others. How about retraining users so they can be productive on a Linux desktop using Open Office? What's the productivity hit to the business for that? Plus there's the cash outlay to replace all the other software you use (systems management, virtualization, etc.).

Having just returned for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, I was really struck by the sheer mass of the companies pulled by the wake Microsoft creates in the market. There were partners from all over the world and it seemed there were even more attending WPC from companies located outside the US. Linux also has its mass of companies that follow in the open source's wake and it may even be larger than Microsoft's. I'm sure there is some IDC or other analyst study containing these numbers. We all like to pick on the easy targets, like Microsoft, Cisco and Apple, but the fact of the matter is that competition is good and we all benefit from the fact that commercial and open source technologies are better because of it.

So while Steve's idea for promoting Linux by saving money is thought provoking, the idea's not likely to take a foothold anytime soon. Plus, by the time you converted, the economy would have turned around years before.

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Mitchell Ashley

Network World (US online)
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