A friend of mine asked me if Linux was getting too commoditized
and too ordinary. A fellow Linux user, he seemed worried about the
"wow" factor of Linux dropping below the point where it would
capture any interest.
As the editor of this site, my immediate response was to frame
my answer in terms of Linux Today. Basically, I told him, I wasn't
concerned about the lack of interesting news regarding Linux. Linux
is far too diverse and broad of a platform to let news about it
fall away to nothing. I predicted that other proprietary companies
will become less and less interesting in a news-sense as time goes
on, because their news is controlled by single entities. People
recognize that more and more lately, and the desire for independent
news sources is still growing.
Later in the week, I realized that I may not have answered my
friend's question in the manner that he wanted. He mentioned a
decline in interest in Linux, and my knee-jerk reaction was to
couch it in publishing terms.
If you have taken philosophy or sociology or have just hung
around bars for a goodly length of time, you will know that this is
nothing new. We all tend to frame the world around us in our own
terms, locked away inside of our skulls day in and day out. But it
tweaked an idea in me that I thought I would share.
I think total cost of ownership studies are stupid.
Even if you could make up a TCO study that was completely fair
and impartial, the results would be meaningless. Not just on a
personal scale, but also on a global scale.
Why? Because anyone you present the results to are going to be
looking for different things and will interpret the results in a
Now, bam! Right out of the gate, the whole lot of Windows
supporters are going to come out and say "Brian Proffitt is giving
up on TCOs because they don't tend to favor Linux."
No. I am rejecting TCOs because they never will cover the
hundreds of different variables that make up one company's unique
business needs. And that includes, by the way, the TCO studies that
do favor Linux. I simply think they are all unsupportable because
for one, everyone will read exactly what they want to read out of
them and for two, they don't address the nuances of what a
migration to Linux can do for a company.
Here's a recent example: my daughter was helping me break down
some old office furniture this week, and was looking for an Allen
wrench to remove some screws holding my desk together. It took her
a while to find it, and then when she did, she laboriously began to
twist the screws out one at a time. While I am all for teaching my
kids the value of a good honest labor, there is such a thing as
doing too much work for a task. Calmly telling her to step out of
the way, I began to whack the desk components apart with a rubber
mallet. Inside of two minutes, the desk was in pieces.
I explained to her that since this desk was falling apart and
was bound for the trash, there was no need to carefully disassemble
it. In this case, breaking it apart in a controlled manner was
I see a similar situation when it comes to businesses and
Windows. Because of the way Windows is designed a lot of company
decisions were (and still are) made based on the limitations and
capabilities of Windows. The business is set up this way because
that's what the proprietary tools will let you do. Just as my
daughter expected to have to use the Allen wrench and carefully
disassemble the desk, so too do managers and decision makers expect
that all IT tasks have to be approached in the same way with the
same tools every time.
Switching to Linux, though, means there is much greater
flexibility in how things are done. You can still do things in
Windows' terms, or you could be more original. If I want my sales
team to remotely input their sales straight into the accounting
system, I could set up a way to let them e-mail the numbers in,
then build a macro or application to parse the data and put it into
the accounting software, using existing tools. Of course, if I do
this in Window-land, I have to be aware of security and stability
issues in these existing tools and hope my data doesn't get
discovered. If I am using Linux, these issues are nonexistent.
Plus, I could likely just bypass all of these daisy-chained tools
and build a smaller faster client app that will hook directly into
the accounting system and do the job more efficiently.
Like taking a hammer to an old desk.
This is the biggest thing TCOs miss. They assume that if you
switch to Linux, then you will continue to do things in terms of
the ousted Windows system. Maybe you will, because inertia is a
hard thing to overcome. And, if you do, you may indeed come up with
higher TCO numbers for Linux over Windows. Because (and here's the
Using and judging Linux in terms of Windows is completely wrong.
Linux is not Windows and Windows is not Linux.
Yes, there are many capabilities that overlap between the two
operating systems. But there are many that are unique to each
operating system. The problem is, analysts and media tend to look
at Linux in terms of Windows and judge it accordingly. They also
tend to look for the negatives, because even though they don't say
it, their group think is that Linux is still a precocious
Here's an example: "Linux doesn't have enough applications on
the desktop," they say. Well, where's the "enough" coming from?
Enough for a home user? Enough for a business user? Based on what
criteria? Press them, and they will say "the Windows desktop."
But do they ever say, "Windows does not have the flexibility to
truly function well in a business environment?" No, they don't,
because in the mindset of the Windows user businesses use Windows
every day and therefore it is a proven fact that Windows does well
in a business setting. No, businesses have had to bend over
backward to accommodate the inflexible nature of Windows all of
these years, and they honestly expect to have to do the same with
With that mindset, why would they switch?
Microsoft is well aware of this. Because they read the TCO
studies and the market research papers too. And they have seen that
while they still hold a vast majority of the world's desktops,
there is a lot of grumbling going on about business rules and IT
management. And they see where Linux will beat them time and time
again: it's open, and so are many of the apps that run on them.
This means getting Linux to accommodate a business rather than
the other way around is a much, much easier proposition than
That's the kind of perception that gets missed in TCOs. And
that's the kind of thinking that Microsoft doesn't want people to
hear. As long as they can hold comparisons in terms of their
products, Microsoft will be happy. But the day is coming when
people will start to think of IT in terms of what they need to do,
not what they have to use. The recent success of Firefox is a good
example: Firefox succeeds because it sets a new standard for
browsing. It does tasks on its own terms.
Who cares about Windows? Linux can be defined in its own terms
and will succeed quite well on its own.
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