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Users: OSDL right to reject Windows/Linux TCO study

Microsoft dangled a carrot in front of the OSDL this week in the form of a Linux and Windows cost comparison. But the OSDL didn't bite.

The buzz with end users this week is that Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) chose wisely when it rejected an allegedly independent comparison of Linux and Windows.

According to Microsoft, the meeting in question took place between the head of the OSDL, Stuart Cohen, and Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, Martin Taylor, at LinuxWorld San Francisco.

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Taylor has become infamous with the Linux community for his role with the "Get the Facts" campaign that used Microsoft-funded research to show the total cost of ownership of Windows as being lower than Linux.

Russell Pavlicek, senior Linux architect at Cassatt Corp., an automation software vendor in San Jose, Calif., saw this latest attempt by Redmond as more of the same.

"The bottom line is this: Microsoft has constantly created studies showing Windows cheaper to use than Linux. Linux vendors have consistently done the opposite.

"The problem here is that it is possible to skew a study to a known end by manipulating the variables so some factors are downplayed, while others are increased. Microsoft certainly understands this process and it will likely try to pitch a process by which the numbers fall in their favor," he said.

Pavlicek suggested that a study conducted by Microsoft will tend to focus on a short time frame, usually around three years. By doing this, it can emphasize the cost of migration and associated training costs while at the same time claiming zero cost for staying with Windows.

The problem with this approach, in Pavlicek's opinion, is that it ignores a fundamental component of the software industry: Change is constant and unavoidable.

"If you aren't willing to deal with change, you shouldn't be in the computer industry," he said. "Today's bleeding-edge application will be selling for pennies on the dollar on eBay in five years and everyone knows it."

If a comparison that offered a true representation of the software industry was used, then Pavlicek believed it would be clear that [Microsoft's] myopic view ignored the fact that once the migration hurdle is leaped, a Linux environment can be highly cost-effective.

Jeff Fitzback, a software engineer from Massachusetts who writes service management software using development tools made for the Windows platform, agreed with Pavlicek that no research that has been funded by Microsoft, a Linux vendor or otherwise should be taken seriously.

However, Fitzback said a completely independent comparison between the two platforms could be possible, and the OSDL should probably conduct such a study if possible, but once again he conceded that the results could still be suspect.

"It's a hard question to answer … when you're working on something you usually think that your product is better; of course, you're going to spin it to your benefit," he said. "I can honestly say for what I do, and the technologies I use, that using the Microsoft platform and tools make the most sense."

Independent consultant and longtime Linux user David C. Niemi took a different route with the OSDL news, and said leading commercial Linux vendor Red Hat would be wise to talk with the folks in Redmond -- on its own terms. Earlier this week representatives from Red Hat stated the company would not seek a similar type of arrangement with Microsoft.

"I've been thinking a long time that Microsoft needs to become a lot more ecumenical in its attitudes for its own long-term success, and being much less hostile to open source is an important part of that," he said.

For Pavlicek, though, there will always be doubts when a study is released from Microsoft.

"Change in this industry is inevitable, and the fact that change will cost money is also inevitable. With Linux and open source, it is possible to arrive in a position where the organization has increased control over its situation while reducing its long-term costs.

"That's a highly desirable outcome and I doubt we'll ever see a Microsoft-funded study that will come to that conclusion," he said.

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