foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Can small businesses afford NOT to run Linux?

, posted: 14-Nov-2007 09:15

There is a very interesting article over on the ITWire web-site. The title of the article is Can a small business afford not to run Linux?. The article lists a number of reasons - and provides examples - why most small businesses would be better served running Linux rather than Windows:
  • Performance
  • License issues
  • Costs
  • Security
  • Stability
The cost and complications for licenses and of license management are particularly interesting, and the examples given is rather scary.

I would also add 'vendor lock-in' as a reason to avoid proprietary software. Proprietary data formats are a trap that one can so easily fall into. It's a bit like a tar-pit, actually, sucking the user into these formats and then requiring continuous payments to the software vendor (license renewals, upgrades, etc.) just to stay afloat. Open source software by definition can only support open data formats, and thus greatly reduce risk and exposure to future costs for the business.

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Comment by freitasm, on 14-Nov-2007 09:31

I would like to find out more about the "vendor lock-in" worry... Does it mean that if I get Ubuntu Server running on some project and later I want to move to a Red Hat version or Suse it will all work ok?

I am asking as a Devil Advocate, because what I've seen before is that a lot needs to be done if moving between environments, which basically is a "lock-in" anyway.

Of course one is free to move from one to another, but still is not a transparent process all the way, surely?

Comment by sbiddle, on 14-Nov-2007 09:47

I am by no means a Windows or troll. I use both operating systems and feel I am pretty neutral when it comes to recommending either. Both have huge pro's and con's and there are definately situations where Windows beats Linux hands down and just as many situations where Linux beats Windows hands down.

I have to say however that the article you linked to it nothing but the work of a great troll. It contains all the usual anti Windows rhetoric that have been repeated over and over for years and doesn't really tell us anything new.

It also fails to cover the issue of staff training and usability. Open Office is *not* MS Office. In this respect MS beats Linux hands down.

Author's note by foobar, on 14-Nov-2007 10:02

@freitasm: Sure, changing the OS and platform on which you are working is always going to be some work. The vendor lock-in I am referring to is specifically about your data, though. For many businesses (and probably also individuals) the data they are working on is many times more valuable than the platform itself.

I was able to change from Suse to Ubuntu and then from Thunderbird to Evolution without significant problems. Sure, you had to get the various pieces of software configured right, but the really important data (my e-mail in that case) could be carried across.

Thus, open data formats give me flexibility and choice.

Proprietary software vendors can and do take advantage of their closed systems by introducing proprietary data formats. The understandable goal for them is to make it difficult for you to leave and switch your platform. With open source you will never face that problem, because the data formats cannot be closed under any circumstances.

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 14-Nov-2007 11:18

Do not forget that even with Linux you are into "distribution-lock" instead of "vendor-lock". And thats what exactly frietasm was asking.

Take this simple example - Will Ubuntu package work in Novell SLED or RedHat or vice versa?

The real truth is - There is no standard or format in Linux and when there are many packaging formats available, the only common thing that the customer can depend on is the "source compilation". Thats hell lot of job and when things are in migration , thats a big headache.

CNR is coming up with a standard installation platform for most of the distributions, but then Linspire is struggling a lot to make it stable and still there are lot of problems.

The "distribution-lock" is really a big show stopper for linux.

I have had my personal experiences when my firm had to switch from Fedora to Ubuntu. None of our packages we built (which were in RPM) worked and we had to build debian packages to be used in Ubuntu. And also the debian packages had some conflicts in Debian due to dependencies which resulted in another debian package build for Debian.

Things are complicated even with Windows if you are migrating, but most of the time we have Microsoft providing with the migration tools.

Author's note by foobar, on 14-Nov-2007 11:38

@chakkaradeep: Yeah, and will your Windows program work on a Mac? For that matter, will your Vista program work on XP? No, so what are you trying to say? I think I explained clearly that I am talking about the vendor lock-in based on data.

I can today change my Linux distribution and still open my e-mail. Change from Windows to a Mac or something else and see if you can still do that (without the support of reverse-engineered import filters).

I don't think that distribution-lock is any show stopper at all. If you build software that is specific to an OS (or a distribution) then you can get issues, of course. Did you try 'alien'? I had success with that, installing RPMs on a Debian system. But in the end, it was your software, all you had to do was rebuilding it.

Anyway, I'm talking about the data-based vendor lock-in, which is MUCH more important and crippling.

Comment by freitasm, on 14-Nov-2007 11:39

And that's my point. When OSS talks about "costs" I don't see people discussing the "distribution-lock" cost and the cost of moving away from one distribution to another.

While I agree with foobar that having a standard format for your data is paramount, small companies may not have the money to pay when things need to be changed.

Hence the "cost" discussion is worthless. Cost of paying a license to Microsoft or Apple for their OS and server OS is clearly stated. The cost of keeping an open source environment is hidden.

Comment by freitasm, on 14-Nov-2007 11:42

The perception is that Linux is Linux. Everyone knows Windows is different of Mac. But people have the impression Linux is the same all over - so it's kind of a misrepresentation.

As for migrating from a Windows Vista program to Windows XP... Seriously, companies go up, not down in version. Unless it is a program on XP that requires specifc things so better stay at XP.

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 14-Nov-2007 11:59

foobar, Programs working in XP work in Vista and vice versa. If you havent seen those, please try. Vista tightened the Security Layer which was not there in XP. Remember, in XP every user is an administrator, whereas in Vista its not.

Telling that XP programs wont work in Vista and vice versa is lack of development knowledge.

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 14-Nov-2007 12:03

OMG, Windows and MAC are totally different platforms. I was talking about "distribution-lock" and not "platform-lock" !

foobar, "distribution-lock" is a known problem prevailing in Linux industry which you just cant say it isnt!

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 14-Nov-2007 12:10

foobar, there is additional cost and man hours and labour cost to be put in if I have to develop a package for every distribution. In my firm, developers were more inclined towards RedHat when company suddenly wanted to change to Ubuntu platform due to various reasons and we developers had to spend a lot of time in migrating. And not to say that we needed to hire people to do some of the future jobs.

Comment by freitasm, on 14-Nov-2007 12:29

I think businesses can and should run Linux - or Mac OS X or Solaris or even Windows. It all comes really to realistic knowledge of the total cost of ownership, avalability of resources in the market to manage the environemtn, support costs from providers, and most importantly the suitability of the OS in relation to the tools required to the task at hand.

And with that I will go away ;-)

Author's note by foobar, on 14-Nov-2007 12:35

@chakkaradeep: Really? The programs between XP and Vista all work? I guess I just imagined all the complaints about incompatibilities then? There are also some Windows programs that work out of the box under Wine on Linux. But others do not. And from what I hear, the same is the case with XP and Vista.

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 14-Nov-2007 13:30

foobar, well, unless you see how and what Vista does that makes XP programs incompatible or atleast exploring the "Run Compatible" option in Vista...well, its not fair to comment.

I am not against Linux, but dont like the fact that one should throw away Microsoft or Apple for the cause of Linux. Open Source is not technology. Linux is. So, Microsoft or Apple can become Open Source but they cannot become Linux. When Linux users bring that statement, as the article you have linked is just a troll where he totally puts Windows down and praises Linux...dude, I am seeing comanies earn billions with Windows and also using Linux in the same place...its nothing like one has to use only Windows or Linux or Mac...Each one has its pros/cons, for Linux there are many to enter to Mainstream Market..heck everyone speak about Open Document Format, Open Office, for me OO is nothing but just a starter, but MS Office is not just about typing and editing documents...Business people who use MS Office will know the real importance...

With this, I will also move away..Before leaving, I would suggest you to read more on XP and Vista from Microsoft than any other Media/Linux articles.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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