No Huge Savings

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2002-10-14 Print this article Print

No Huge Savings

OBrien said, however, that IT managers should not expect to save their organizations millions—or even thousands—of dollars by making the switch. With training, application porting and support costs also rising, OBrien said he has not seen significant savings as a result of deploying Linux desktops.

"I may not pay the licensing fees, but I still have to budget for training, support and administrative costs," said OBrien, who added that the move to Linux was motivated in large part by a decision to move the county away from proprietary software. "Costs like that are identical whether you buy a proprietary product or use open source."

Also, experts said, any enterprise that has a significant base of macros written for Microsoft Office or third-party applications that integrate tightly with Microsoft Office will face additional migration costs. Suns StarOffice suite, for example, while offering compatibility with most Windows file formats, does not enable macros, pivot tables or any other add-on features developed using Visual Basic. So companies that have made liberal use of Visual Basic scripting could find migrating to Linux costly. In addition, according to Gartners Silver, most large enterprises could find themselves with hundreds if not thousands of customized Windows applications to migrate.

The absence of savings, however, will not stop OBrien from continuing to support a move to Linux on the desktop for some users. "Cost was not the major driver behind our use of Linux," OBrien said. "These are tight times in Jefferson County, and were very aware of keeping our eyes on the nickels. But we moved to Linux because we like the open-source concept, and we wanted to have as little proprietary software in our computing environment as possible."

Although many IT managers do not see big savings in a move to desktop Linux, some application software vendors and systems integrators are looking at Linux as a way to cut their own costs. In addition, as they port their applications to the open-source operating system, theyre beginning to pull customers along with them. At Zumiez Inc., an extreme-sports equipment retailer based in Everett, Wash., for example, Rory Hudson, retail systems manager, deployed Linux on the desktop for point-of-sale applications after his retail management system software vendor, Apropos Retail Systems Inc., in Lynwood, Wash., dropped support of its software on Unix and went all-Linux.

Hudson said he wanted to maintain his relationship with his point-of-sale software vendor, so last year, when Apropos switched to Linux, Hudson began testing Linux on the desktop at three stores. When the point-of-sale terminals made it through the busy holiday shopping season, Hudson decided to make the leap. In March, he began deploying Red Hat Version 6.0 with the Ximian desktop in 100 retail locations. The migration took two months.

Hudson said the move to Linux has saved his company money—by cutting out Unix license charges—but cost cutting wasnt the main issue. Stability was.

But, while Linux is good enough for his retail stores, Hudson echoed the sentiments of many IT managers, saying he has no plans to replace the desktops at his corporate headquarters with Linux. Hes evaluated Linux for the desktop there, but Hudson said there isnt a good reason for him to switch completely off Windows right now.

"When we make a decision to switch software vendors, we have to look at the needs of the user, and right now, Linux desktops arent viable for us," Hudson said. "We are quite satisfied with the Microsoft software we have right now, so theres really no reason for us to make the switch."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be contacted at

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    As a senior writer for eWEEK Labs, Anne writes articles pertaining to IT professionals and the best practices for technology implementation. Anne covers the deployment issues and the business drivers related to technologies including databases, wireless, security and network operating systems. Anne joined eWeek in 1999 as a writer for eWeek's eBiz Strategies section before moving over to Labs in 2001. Prior to eWeek, she covered business and technology at the San Jose Mercury News and at the Contra Costa Times.

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