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Meta Group: Linux is no panacea

The rush to Linux in some corporate IT operations is based on faulty lines of reasoning, according to a recent report compiled by analysts at Meta Group (http://www.metagroup.com), Stamford, Conn. The report questions the promise of cost cutting by advocates of the open-source technology, and assigns a good chunk of its backing to anti-Microsoft sentiment.

Microsoft Corp. (http://www.microsoft.com) has certainly made no secret of its concerns about the open-source software movement. In its latest SEC filing, the Redmond software maker declared: ''To the extent that the open source model gains increasing market acceptance, sales of the company's products may decline, the company may have to reduce the prices it charges for its products, and revenues and operating margins may consequently decline.''

Keep in mind that SEC regulations and securities laws require companies to put a wide range of potential risk factors into these documents -- to list what are thought to be reasonably ascertainable risks. Microsoft made the decision to begin including this particular risk with the previous quarter's filing.

Indeed, the Linux OS has been making notable inroads into Microsoft territory for some time, especially on the server side. But are IT departments making the decision to replace Windows with Linux based on a solid business case or anti-Microsoft sentiment?

The recent report from Meta Group asserts that the decision to utilize the open-source operating system is often ''more an emotionally driven reaction against Microsoft than a factual case for Linux.'' The report, entitled The Real Value of Linux , was authored by Meta Group analyst Kevin McIsaac, who writes: 'Linux has emerged as the darling of the ''technical crowd,'' yet the interest appears be more emotional than factual, and is based on a questionable lower-cost-of-ownership argument. The Linux OS license is 'free,' but that does not ensure that total cost of ownership will be reduced.''

McIsaac believes that technical staffs are recommending replacement of Windows with Linux on their servers ''under the guise'' of reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) in a down economy. Because Linux is ''free,'' the thinking seems to go, it will reduce TCO. That reasoning is flawed, McIsaac claims, because Linux can require more manpower and attention to match the reliability, availability, and scalability of high-end Unix and Windows 2000 or XP servers. And there's the cost of high-availability add-ons, such as clustering partitioning and ''journaled'' file systems, as well as third-party support -- all of which jack up the overall cost and complexity of Linux.

Even if all other Linux costs were the same, maintains McIsaac, the fact that the OS license is free probably has little impact on the TCO of significant projects, such as ERP and CRM implementations. This is because the license is typically less than 2% or 3% of the TCO of such projects.

McIsaac isn't suggesting that a Linux-Windows swap might not be the right choice for some organizations, but he urges companies to make that critical decision based on the right criteria. ''Astute IT organizations will recognize that Linux's true value is derived more from the price/performance of the commodity Intel hardware it enables than from its open-source characteristics,'' he writes.

In other words, leave the anti-Microsoft attitudes out of the equation, or you'll end up with an infrastructure that is limiting and difficult to manage.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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