|Subject: [hangout] A typical example
The lack of effective Free Software advocacy in America typically
results in articles like the following. Most of the complaints and
successes of Linux described in this article are the direct result of
GNU/Linux. Otherwise, the bulk of the article is composed of glaring
errors and cultivated quotes.
Free Software makes it possible, and Freedom is why certain areas are
held back. But "Free Software" is never mentioned in the article. The
rest of the world is starting to catch on. How can this discrepancy in
the American press be addressed?
The Limitations Of Linux
Lisa DiCarlo, Forbes.com
06.16.03, 12:00 PM ET
There have been so many glowing stories on the use of Linux that one
might come away with the impression that Linux is an elixir that solves
myriad business problems, and that it is always cheaper than
alternatives. But like a lot of technologies before it, Linux has, to
some degree, been overhyped.
There is no question that companies can sometimes cut costs and increase
productivity by using Linux systems instead of Unix or Microsoft
(nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) Windows. But there are costs and
technical limitations associated with Linux that don't typically make
Customers say these include a lack of mature development tools, too many
Linux variants, acquisition costs for more sophisticated versions of the
software and lack of applications for small and medium-sized businesses.
Master Nursery Garden Center, a $500 million gardening cooperative, has
been using Linux for several years and is satisfied with its cost and
performance. Yet Michael Baeta, director of technology communications,
concedes that there is "not a lot of depth" in some areas. "Figuring out
stuff...like production, low-end desktop publishing or using a
consumer-oriented database will take some outside consulting," he says.
"You run into problems when you try to do something that it's not
designed to do."
That's partly because, at this point, Linux lags Windows in terms of
integration with hardware and software. That's changing--Oracle (nasdaq:
ORCL - news - people ), Dell Computer (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ),
IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ), Veritas Software (nasdaq: VRTS - news
- people ) and others are making inroads--but it takes time to test for
every permutation and make sure everything works well together.
What about cost?
Ask anyone to name the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the
word "Linux," and most likely what he'll say is "free." While less
complex versions of Linux are often free, enterprise-class variants are
Tom Fisher, assistant vice president at Guide One Insurance, was stung
by the $10,000 price tag of the mainframe version of Linux, distributed
by SuSe. "IBM was preaching that Linux was free," says Fisher. "But it's
not free on the mainframe. That was a big surprise." Still, he says he
avoids support fees, which can run in the tens of thousands of dollars
annually, by leveraging the worldwide network of Linux developers on the
Most companies measure cost not by the initial one-time purchase of
hardware or software, but by what it costs over a period of years, or
the total cost of ownership.
"Linux is not free when you count maintenance and support," says Aaron
Barnham, vice president of operations at TMP Technologies, a unit of
Monster Worldwide (nasdaq: MNST - news - people ), which runs career
Web site Monster.com. "Every company, product and Web site is different.
With tech budgets tight, everybody needs to look at their true cost of
ownership and determine what is the right fit."
Barnham explained that the cost of swapping out Windows or Unix servers,
retraining and maintenance might wipe out whatever initial cost savings
Linux provides. That said, "If Microsoft keeps raising software prices,
it will change our total cost-of-ownership numbers and that would force
us to reconsider."
Last year, Microsoft sponsored a study by International Data Corp. that
found Windows systems to be cheaper than Linux over a five-year period.
The study looked at five common business uses and concluded that Windows
is less expensive in four of five instances. IDC pointed out, however,
that Linux developers and supporters are quickly closing the price gap.
Packaged Linux software will increasingly be built into server hardware,
reducing the need for extra development. Further, the report said,
"system management tools are emerging and can be expected to expand
rapidly," thus reducing the total cost of Linux servers.
For smaller customers, Linux might not be cost effective. That's because
there aren't as many Linux applications available for small businesses
as for larger ones, and also because small customers generally don't
have the resources to do much custom development.
"I'm not a fan of Linux at all [because] there wasn't a lot of
off-the-shelf software," says Jalem Getz, president of Buyseasons, a $10
million costume e-tailer that dumped its open-source Web servers for
Windows in 2000. "We had to build everything from scratch and we didn't
have the budget for that."
Getz says there were technical problems with Microsoft's Commerce Server
products but that the company made good by giving Buyseasons four free
weeks of development time with Microsoft engineers.
John Groenveld, associate research engineer at Pennsylvania State
Applied Research Lab, says he is "no fan of Microsoft" but is distressed
by the fact that there isn't a single standard for Linux. There are many
companies, including Red Hat (nasdaq: RHAT - news - people ) and SuSe,
producing their own versions. "Each has [its] own peculiarities,"
Groenveld says. "What if you choose one that doesn't succeed" in the
Most experts agree that there will be a shakeout amongst Linux
distributors simply because the market, however large, will not sustain
all the players.
So, in the end, this is what we know: Linux is here to stay; it will get
better; and sometimes it's cheaper than alternatives, but it's not right
for every application. We know the very same about Windows.
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