Reports: Linux Cheaper Than Windows? Think Again

Two new studies have been released that likely will provide fresh fuel for the Windows-vs.-Linux debate that has burned steadily in the high-tech sphere for years. One study, sponsored by Microsoft, argues that Microsoft Windows is actually less expensive to own and operate than Linux; the other states that deploying Linux on the desktop is not likely to produce ROI in many cases.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Microsoft-sponsored study, produced by Forrester Research’s Giga unit, found businesses that built Web portals using Microsoft servers and development tools did so at lower cost than those that used a Linux platform and Sun’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) software.

“Microsoft offers a substantial cost advantage over J2EE/Linux as a development platform for the applications considered,” Giga analysts said in the report, which examined deployments at 12 different enterprises and evaluated costs over a four-year time frame. The average cost savings at Windows shops was 26 percent, Giga reported.

Desktop Debate

Although it might seem logical that a Microsoft-sponsored report would reach conclusions that favor the software giant, another recent study also casts doubt on some aspects of Linux. Research firm Gartner has noted that while Linux can save companies money when used at the server level, translating that success to the desktop is a tricky proposition. According to the research firm, because desktop computers run diverse sets of applications, migrating to a Linux environment is a more difficult, and therefore costly, proposition.

Gartner vice president David Smith said moving to Linux desktops does make sense for some enterprises, but only in a “very narrow, limited range of situations,” such as environments where few applications are used and those applications perform largely repetitive tasks. Data-entry or bank-teller automation platforms were examples cited by Gartner as appropriate stages for desktop Linux.

“Servers are often dedicated to running one application each, so migrating a server to Linux has been fairly clean and straightforward,” Smith told the E-Commerce Times. “The desktop is a much more cluttered, busy environment, and the bulk of applications running there are already written for Windows.”

True Costs

Gartner also said enterprises must carefully weigh the true costs of ownership of various software platforms, considering such issues as tech support. Microsoft has started to phase out support for Windows 95, for instance, making the cost of running that platform higher than the cost of running more recent versions of Windows. If a company is running Windows 95, therefore, the benefits of switching to Linux may be greater than if it were running Windows 2000.

The Gartner report comes as Sun tries to build momentum for its Mad Hatter Project for desktop computers. Last month, the company rushed to open preregistration for the open-source desktop in the wake of the Blaster worm, which ravaged many PCs running Windows. Sun also announced earlier this week that it has reached an agreement with RealNetworks to add that company’s media player to its desktop offerings.

Despite the studies’ findings, however, Microsoft has identified open-source software as a major competitive threat. In recent weeks, the company has sparred in the press with Asian governments that are considering banding together to develop their own open-source operating system to provide a leg up to local software developers. Microsoft decried the move as potentially anticompetitive.


  • They SITLL keep on saying that M$ is cheaper than Linux, yet I don’t see M$ going in to Google and lowering their budget. I don’t see M$ going in to Amazon and offering to lower their IT spending.
    And most of all I don’t see M$ replacing their BSD Hotmail servers. It all shows what these "research" firms are all about. Personally Linux HAS lowered my software spending to $0.10 on the dollar and I do the SAME stuff!

  • This report is comparing apples to oranges.
    Most custom Windows sites use ASP, and most custom Linux sites use PHP (or Perl).
    I’ve been developing custom-coded websites for close to ten years, and Linux-based tools have always been far easier, faster (and cheaper) to use.

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