Open Source Software vs. Commercial Software:
Migration from Windows to Linux
An IT Professional's Testimonial


A Matter of Cost?

One of the most difficult things to fathom is the whole concept of free open source software. How can software be FREE? Well, the concept of free software goes back to the ideals of Richard Stallman, the creator of the GNU General Public License. Stallman's vision was that the creators of open source software must share and share alike. This entire concept of free software has birthed thousands upon thousands of programs that are as good if not better than the commercial alternatives, not to mention the free operating system Linux which is arguably a better choice than the commercial alternatives of Windows and Apple OS X. People from all over the world have discovered the benefits of open source software, some have contributed back to the open source community by writing and further enhancing products out there, and in the end we now have a free operating system (Linux) and loads of supported programs all available to whomever wants to take the time to download them, install them, begin using them, and look away from the headaches and costs that go along with commercial software. The list of open source programs is a vast one, when you compare commercial software and the open source alternatives to them. I recently found a few lists, all which can be quite helpful in locating software titles to perform a specific function or replace commercial software:

Rather than reinventing the wheel here, I will allow you to check out these pages and others, to decide for yourself which alternatives you wish to pursue. Often times there is more than one open source option for every commercial program. But, a little research on your favorite search engine and you can better narrow down your search by seeing what others have said about them.

All in all, individuals and even businesses can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, by not having to spend money on commercial software when an open source alternative can probably be found. Even such alternatives as using GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) in place of Adobe Photoshop, or Cinelerra in place of Adobe Premiere, Scribus in place of Adobe Pagemaker or Adobe InDesign, Inkscape in place of Adobe Illustrator, and many many others. Yes there are some niche areas that open source software may not be suitable or available for. In this case, one way to get around this (sometimes, but not always), is to attempt to get the regular Windows version of the software running on Linux in Wine (the Windows emulator). However, getting programs to work in Wine is not always an easy task. I will get to this subject a little later on down in this document.

Don't Let Strong Words Deceive

Often times Microsoft will publish articles on total cost of ownership (TCO) for their software versus open source software. Their main comparison is Windows to Linux. But how do these numbers really stack up? Mileage will most definitely vary. But what I can tell you is this: Your initial cost will be far less with Linux, because there are no startup costs. And, how many initial costs will you have for each upgrade in the future? You may buy the current version of Windows today, but when it reaches its end of life you will be faced with buying Windows all over again (albeit an upgrade) when the current version is out of date and no longer supported. Microsoft will slowly migrate its customers along from one version to the next, it's just a fact. Again you will pay your initial costs when it comes time to upgrading. With Windows, there are many many hidden costs, which I will begin to point out below. To be fair about all of this, I will admit that there are some hidden costs of Linux as well. However, when you list out the hidden costs of Windows on one side, and those of Linux on the other side, you will quickly realize that the scale tips to the Windows side, and that Linux has far fewer costs overall.

Microsoft claims that over time with Linux, your cost will increase because of support cost. But, when you inspect their reasoning and supporting data, the costs seem to get somewhat skewed. They leave out the fact that you do not necessarily need to pay support costs with open source or Linux. Granted, you don't have to pay for support for Microsoft products either unless you need to contact Microsoft on an issue, so it is a balancing act. Many companies and some home users simply use online bulletin boards, forums, and other ways of communicating to solve many common problems. In reality I think the comparison of support costs between Windows and Linux is more apparent in the home environment. Most regular home users that do not handle IT work for a living will probably not have some of the knowledge to fix and maintain some common problems. The chance of these regular users to pay for some kind of support is likely. In the corporate world, a majority of companies have a staff on site to deal with IT issues and will have the experience and training needed. In this case, the IT staff will probably use free resources online rather than paying for any sort of support. If they don't have an IT staff on site, chances are they will call a local consultation company and then will need to pay for support. In the case of either Windows or Linux, those that do not have the expertise at hand will likely need to pay for support whether they are using Windows or Linux.

Simple Formula of Finance

With Linux, you can always count on zero costs up front for purchase of the software, whereas Windows costs can quickly start to add up, not only from purchasing the software but from additional licensing costs. Now, you can buy Linux from vendors such as Red Hat that does come with support. But, we will just assume that we are using a free version of Linux that does not come with any paid for support. The point is that you can get the free version of Linux or pay for Windows, and with either you are not getting any support with the product.

Now, Microsoft will quickly point out ways that they claim Windows is more cost effective in the long run. But take into consideration a very simple finance concept for any business: having no upfront costs (such as with Linux), can have huge benefits and effects in the long run for any individual or business. Why is this? Well, it goes back to the basic concept of having money in the bank now rather than later. Let's think of it this way: if a business uses Linux and open source software, it has zero costs to obtain this software, and it can use that money for something else to promote the growth of its company (such as marketing), or even better invest the money and start growing its funds. Any finance expert will agree that the best investment strategy for a business is to invest early. So in effect by using Linux and open source, a business can install its software and get up and running by only paying for hardware costs, yet get a jump start on marketing, its investments, or various projects to promote itself. This can have huge effects and benefits on any company's long term well being by getting this sort of jump start. But, consider the contrast of using Windows. If the same business decides to go with Windows and pay full price for the software, money is spent right away upfront for software in addition to the hardware, and forces the company to use other funds (if any is available) for other uses like promotion or marketing. Other projects and business promotion may have to go on hold or be put aside temporarily while the business recovers from its initial costs.

Take the following hypothetical example of a small business that is just starting up. Let's assume that it has $10,000 of initial cash to start up, and wishes to start with 5 computers in its office. Let's compare the costs of going completely with the Windows (commercial) platform, versus going with Linux (open source) platform. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume the computers are very basic, which will only need an operating system and an office suite to start with. Also, to keep things consistent we will assume the business is paying for Windows with the purchase of the hardware (which is more of a reality as opposed to buying Windows separately).

First Year Startup Costs
Windows (commercial software)
Linux (open source software)
Hardware (5 computers) $2,500 $2,500
Software - operating system $1,395 ($279 each for Vista Business edition) $0
Software - office suite $1,945 ($390 each for Office 2007 Small Business edition) $0
First Year (Startup) total cost $5,840 $2,500

Now, to see how much of a difference this can make into the second year and beyond, let's look at the cash that the company would have with both scenarios. Let's assume that the company decided to invest all of the extra money left over from its initial costs, earning 2% interest in a simple bank account. To keep things simple, we won't factor in income, only the initial expenses for software/hardware.

Windows (commercial software)
Linux (open source software)
Gain of open source
First year total cash invested $10,000 - $5,840 = $4,160 $10,000 - $2,500 = $7,500 $3,340.00
Interest earned (2% interest) $4,160 * .02 = $83.20 $7,500 * .02 = $150.00 n/a
First year total cash (year end) $4,160 + $83.20 = $4,243.20 $7,500 + $150.00 = $7,650 $3,406.80
Second year total cash (year end) $4,328.06 $7,803 $3,474.94
Third year total cash (year end) $4,414.62 $7,959.06 $3,544.44
Fourth year total cash (year end) $4,502.91 $8,118.24 $3,615.33
Fifth year total cash (year end) $4,592.97 $8,280.60 $3,687.63

Based on this simple example, the company will be able to invest more money each year, thus generating more interest and putting them into a stronger financial situation by having money in the bank. We all know that a healthy company is one that has cash. This is shown by the "Gain of open source" column; notice that the company will immediately have a gain with open source, and the amount that company gains increases each year because they have more invested right away as opposed to Windows (commercial software). By following the simple rule of thumb of investing their money early, they will come out farther ahead in the long run.

Also, keep in mind that this example doesn't include lots of other hidden costs of Windows, which I will get into later on. These hidden costs can compound on top of the initial costs in this example.



Next Section : A Matter of Cost:Continuous Costs,Application Costs,Hardware Costs

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