Open Source Software vs. Commercial Software:
Migration from Windows to Linux
An IT Professional's Testimonial
A Matter of Cost?
Hardware Costs: A New Light (Windows Refund)
Recently I came across an interesting subject, about many hardware vendors such as Dell, HP, Gateway, and others. These vendors run specials all of the time, and with Microsoft pushing Vista down their throats, most new systems are shipping with Windows Vista. I even get annoyed at the Windows sticker that they put on the front of the PCs. Why is this necessary? Often times the operating system on the machine does not even match the sticker anyway. What is the purpose of the sticker? I guess it gives Microsoft more publicity or markets Windows more. I don't know why it should be placed on the outside of the PC and advertised there, though. You can still find some systems that ship with Windows XP, but they are getting more and more rare as time goes on. In either case, all of the specials that are advertised will ship with some version of Windows. So, what if you want to install Linux on the system, instead of Windows? Well, vendors are starting to step up, and offer a refund of Windows for those who inquire about it. A well known article was posted a couple years ago by the BBC about a Linux user that denied the Windows XP license agreement by following the instructions when he booted up his brand new Dell laptop. He simply read the Microsoft Windows XP License Agreement, which stated that a refund could be requested from the PC vendor, after he clicked the option "I don't accept this agreement". He then sent a letter to Dell explaining that he was installing Linux, and that he had no need of the Windows XP software that came with his laptop. He documented everything, and soon after Dell issues him a refund for Windows.
I myself recently had the opportunity to request a refund of Windows Vista and the Windows XP downgrade on a brand new Dell Vostro 1710 laptop that I purchased directly from Dell Small Business. After I received the laptop, I promptly booted it up and let it come to the Windows XP license agreement screen. I clicked on the option for "I don't accept this agreement", and made note of the message that came up on the screen that says to contact the vendor about a refund.
So, I then went to Dell's Support website (http://www.support.dell.com), and put in a support request to get a refund of Windows Vista / Windows XP Downgrade software that came with the laptop. I explained that I had installed Fedora Linux 10 on the laptop and I did not need the Windows software, and also mentioned that I was aware that Dell honors such requests. I received an autoreply asking if I was trying to do a software downgrade from Windows Vista to XP, but at the bottom of the message it had clear instructions to reply back if this did not address the support request. It did not, so I replied.
After 2 days, I received an email from an actual Dell support representative, with a confirmation of a UPS pickup request at my home address, where I had the laptop shipped to. The email was very thorough and informative, and mentioned that after Dell received the discs to allow 30 days, and a credit should be issued to the credit card I used for the purchase. I immediately boxed up the discs and later gave to UPS when they showed up the following business day. I also received a phone call from Dell the following day, inquiring if UPS had picked up the package!
I must say that this says a LOT about Dell, in that they are honoring these requests without a lot of hassle. Maybe I got lucky, but I am hoping that they start to see more of these requests, so that maybe they will start to offer computer systems that either ship with no operating system, or with Linux at a reduced price (without the cost of Windows software). Technically when you buy a computer with Windows, you ARE paying for your copy of Windows which is hidden in the hardware cost.
It seems that with the release of Windows 7, Microsoft has realized that consumers are getting refunds for Windows, and has adjusted the main End User License Agreement. Now, instead of the text stating that you could request a refund for the Windows software with your new PC, Microsoft has replaced it with text that states that you can request a full return of the new PC instead. Note the careful way that Microsoft now phrases the license agreement below. So basically this is Microsoft's attempt to tie the Windows license directly to the PC that is being sold by the vendor. Fortunately, the consumer still has the freedom to wipe Windows and install Linux, however this gives PC vendors an excuse to deny you a refund for Windows 7.
Also, note the additional section of the Windows 7 End User License Agreement that forces the user to agree to "transmission of certain computer information during activation, validation and for Internet-based services.". Yet, no specific information is given on what exactly is transferred from your PC back to the mothership at Microsoft.
Hidden Cost #1: Cost of Anomalies
Up to this point we have identified a lot of tangible costs that we can actually see and feel. But, with Windows there are a lot of costs that are not readily visible up front. For instance, the cost of going back and fixing problems that pop up constantly can be very costly. Depending on the nature of the issue, it can be as serious as a complete system failure (take for example an Windows NTFS filesystem failure that requires a complete reinstall and/or loss of files on the computer). This is the worst case scenario for a server system, an usually takes several hours to get the system back up and running in the state it was before the crash. Not only does this cost labor for the technician to do the reinstall, but it takes time away that the technician could be spending on something else. In the desktop PC arena, the costs are more difficult to estimate. It can take anywhere from 4 hours to 8 or more hours to get a typical home PC reinstalled and all custom settings set back up. And, don't even think about trying to recover files from a corrupted filesystem unless you have a very deep pocket. I have seen countless times where the NTFS filesystem has become corrupted for no reason and caused mass loss of files.
Fortunately, this is very rare with Linux because its filesystems are extremely stable and don't have problems "for no reason". Anomalies just don't typically happen. I can attest to this during my 11 years of experience running Windows and Linux side by side. And, if you research ths subject you will find many many other IT professionals (and even home users) that can also attest to this fact. Many people find the fact that open source is stable and free of such anomalies hard to fathom. But, recall earlier when I mentioned that open source software is developed by thousands of individuals from all over the world. The chances of finding an anomaly (when one exists) is much greater, and you can guarantee that if one is found it is fixed right away by the efficient open source community. Not having costly anomalies right from the start will greatly benefit any business or home user. I can testify to this first hand, because I have seen Windows and Linux run side by side, and the anomalies pop up on the Windows systems time and time over while the Linux systems continue to run without any attention needed.
It's hard to judge the true cost of downtime, but often it is a very costly expense as well. With servers, you affect multiple users at once who cannot use the services that it provides. So, if users have a job to do, and they cannot do it, and are essentially getting paid to sit around and do nothing, or at the minimum very limited work. Then, they must waste more time by catching up after things are restored. Let's face it, almost everything we do today involves a computer in some sort of fashion. When that computer is taken away due to downtime, the level of efficiency decreases greatly. Then, add the cost and labor of reinstalling the hardware or software by the support personnel, and the tab seems to grow exponentially. Unfortunately as an IT professional I have been faced with having to stay up all night to rebuild Windows servers that completely crashed in order to have them up and running by the time the employees arrived in the morning, to alleviate the cost of the downtime. These costs are there for home systems as well, but the time is probably actually more per system because of many more custom settings and specialized software that needs to be installed.
All in all, it is true that in a corporate environment, the costs of migrating away from Windows to Linux is apparent immediately. This is mainly comprised of the time needed for the learning curve of all personnel using the computers. Fortunately the actual cost of purchasing software is minimal to nonexistent since all open source software is completely free. Over time, these initial costs of time and learning will be surpassed. The amount of time will vary greatly though in each unique scenario.
Hidden Cost #2: Costs of Continous Maintenance
Up to now we've focused mainly on costs of items that have to be purchased, or re-purchased twice or even more. We've talked about hidden costs of anomalies where we pay for and waste time and money fixing continuous problems. But the costs of maintenance are probably one of the highest of all, more overlooked, and affect the highest number of parties involved. Let's take a closer look at why this can be a huge burden on individuals and companies alike. From end consumers and computer owners, to Internet service providers and enterprise corporations, the cost of maintenance is a big one. First, let's consider what the costs of maintenance are from.
Viruses, spyware, and general malware (programs that can do damage to your operating system) are amongst the most common and costly forms of maintenance costs. It only takes minutes for these malicious programs to be installed and run, but can take hours and hours of time to clean up or reinstall systems. This essentially makes the computer unavailable for the person using it, but it also takes time for the person fixing it as well. Then, there's a trickle down effect to others as well. For instance, malicious programs can spread from computer to computer, causing widespread chaos. And, this eventually causes problems for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as well. A lot of malicious programs use up valuable bandwidth, which costs the ISP more money. Then, it can also increase the amount of support calls as people will need help fixing their computer as well. This drags in to the picture the hardware vendor or party that provided the hardware in the first place. Ironically, Microsoft seldom takes support calls regarding the cleaning up of Windows systems. These calls normally go to the hardware vendor that sells the computers.
In March 2010, Microsoft stepped up their fight against malicious software that runs on Windows. My guess as to why they made this move was probably the horrible propaganda that keeps appearing because of widespread malware that affects the Windows operating system. They won a court case that allowed them to shut down the Waledac Botnet, which was the source of a large chunk of spam that had been circulating around for quite some time.
Shortly thereafter the shutdown of the Waledac Botnet, Scott Charney of Microsoft publicly spoke of a solution at the March 2010 RSA Security Confernce, that Microsoft had devised to help combat the large increase of malicious software circulating around the Internet on Windows computers.
"Maybe markets will make it work," Charney said. But an Internet usage tax might be the way to go. "You could say it's a public safety issue and do it with general taxation," he said.
I instantly caught the word "tax" and had to re-read the quote a couple of times to make sure I was reading and understanding it properly. Did he say general taxation? To fix Windows problems? You bet he did. So here Microsoft thinks that the general public should pay for Microsoft's own mistakes! This is absolutely absurd. Microsoft customers already pay for the Windows operating system and Microsoft software, and now Microsoft wants them to pay more money because the software is riddled with security holes? Unbelievable.
My point in bringing this up is to prove one point to all of this. And that is to consider that Linux not only is a free software package, but it doesn't have spyware, viruses, and other malware circulating all over the Internet. These malicious programs for Linux are extremely rare, and as such a computer running Linux has virtually no chance of getting this type of software. This means that consumers can safely use Linux and not even have to worry about these types of malicious programs running on their computer, and they can instead focus on using their computer, rather than maintaining it. In the long run, this saves the end consumer a considerable amount of time and money, and avoids the trickle down effect of costing ISPs and other companies this extra cost as well. So in my opinion, the widespread use of Linux can save time and money for many many parties involved.
Knowledge and Training Costs
In the corporate world, it is ideal for the IT staff to have training, which brings extra value to the company. It seems that things in the world of IT are constantly changing and so training is something that must be constantly updated. This is the case whether you are pursuing training for Windows or Linux. However, from my personal experience, Microsoft is constantly overturning its products in hopes of brining in new revenue. A product with a shiny new face is much more appealing than the old one with a repainted face, which can account for this high turnover. This is good for Microsoft and training companies, but not so much for individuals trying to stay current on their skills. Many become frustrated due to the constant updating necessary to stay current with Microsoft products. Not only is this a lot of work and very time consuming, but costly as well. The typical training class (for either Microsoft or Linux) can run close to $1,000, and the exams for each class are usually around $200 per exam. In the Linux world, things don't advance as rapidly as nobody is trying to release products like an assembly line to make a profit. Instead, training can be achieved and will last longer since it can be applied to future versions of the software. However, don't get me wrong, versions of Linux do come out quite frequently and some introduce significant changes from past versions. However, when you compare the two side by side, Linux does not require nearly as much updating as Windows, or near the costs of the Microsoft track.
The subject of cost between Windows and Linux is an extensive one if you have the time to read more. Company executives and others doing cost analysis even on their own computers need to make sure this is something that is thoroughly examined. There can be a drastic monetary savings as well as valuable time savings as well in many cases. Even simply doing a Google search, you will find many articles right off the bat on this subject. I would particularly look for articles published by indepedent studies that compare the immediate and long-term costs (otherwise known as total cost of ownership or TCO). And, watch out for studies that strongly support Windows that are sponsored by Microsoft. Microsoft has been very clever and inserting these here and there, so check the credentials carefully. Reports published by Microsoft have been proven to be skewed in many cases, and cannot be trusted. Many can argue that people are attacking Microsoft, but the fact that Microsoft has itself seen many court cases over the years tells me that there is evidence that they are not playing with a straight hand all of the time.
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