Study: Windows Cheaper Than Linux for App Development

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2003-09-09

Study: Windows Cheaper Than Linux for App Development

A new research study conducted by Forrester Researchs Giga Information Group unit and commissioned and paid for by Microsoft Corp. has found that Microsoft offers a cost advantage over J2EE/Linux as a development platform for certain portal-type applications.

Microsoft in May commissioned Giga to undertake a research project to provide a Total Economic Impact (TEI) business case comparison for developing and deploying custom business applications on Windows and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition)/Linux platforms.

Giga was asked to examine the relative benefits of Linux and Windows by comparing the costs incurred and benefits achieved by two sets of organizations: those using Linux as the basis for their applications and those using Microsoft Windows.

Giga, not Microsoft, also decided which applications would be considered in the study, research analyst John Rymer told eWEEK in an interview on Monday.

The comparison of the two platforms shows medium-size to large organizations that develop, deploy, support and maintain custom applications on the Microsoft .Net platform can expect to experience 25 percent to 28 percent less cost during a four-year life cycle than if the J2EE/Linux platform was used, Rymer said.

The report, titled "The total economic impact of developing and deploying applications on Microsoft and J2EE/Linux platforms," was conducted by Rymer and senior consulting adviser Bob Cormier. The full report is available here.

The study employed Gigas TEI methodology, which measures the costs that are typically accounted for by IT as well as benefits, risks and flexibility. The study used TEI as a common business language to capture and communicate the financial and non-financial aspects of developing, deploying and supporting applications using the Microsoft and J2EE/Linux platforms, Rymer said.

The report also analyzes the costs of developing, deploying, maintaining and supporting custom business applications for medium and large-size organizations.

The findings in the study are based on interviews conducted with seven organizations currently using the Microsoft .Net platform to develop and deploy custom applications within their enterprises and five organizations currently using J2EE/Linux.

These organizations provided Giga with significant details on their actual costs, selection criteria and business goals in constructing applications. The report extrapolates from these user experiences to create two composite organizations that are developing and deploying custom applications using either J2EE/Linux or the Microsoft platform.

Next page: Why Giga Chose J2EE.

Why J2EE

Asked by eWEEK whether this was a representative enough number to draw such conclusions, Rymer said Giga wanted to delve into the details from a smaller number of companies to get enough information to allow it to construct a model to compare Windows and Linux/J2EE.

"We also took some guidance from the market as it were. Our interviews with organizations using Linux quickly indicated that J2EE was their development and deployment platform of choice. As such, a J2EE/Linux environment has been used as the basis for comparing a Linux to Windows environment in this study," he said.

He also acknowledged that the studys results are probably a good representation of the middle but not the extreme cases at both the high and low ends.

But Martin Taylor, Microsofts general manager of platform strategy, told eWEEK in an interview on Monday that the company is "in no way extrapolating this out to say that for any small or large operation anywhere in the world that this applies completely to you and that I can guarantee 25 percent savings. Im not saying that at all," he said.

However, Giga is a credible third party and by supplying the full report to anyone who wants to see it, Microsoft and Giga are not only giving users the data, but also the process and methodology so they can "do this on their own research and compare their results. Id also love to see a Linux vendor sponsor research that shows a 25 percent savings," Taylor said

Rymer said its time for the debate between Microsoft and the open-source community in this regard to move from emotion and religious belief into real, practical consideration.

"Thats our business and why we wanted to do this. We really need to take a step back and look at where these choices are going to produce the best advantage for the client. This study does not cover every possible case out there, and thats fine as thats the next thing we can then work on," he said.

Next page: Getting Analysts to Understand Red Hat.

Red Hat Responds

Lee Day, a Red Hat Inc. spokeswoman, said the company is spending a lot more time working with the analyst community to make sure it understands what Red Hat is doing. Red Hat is also facilitating communications between customers to make sure that they can talk to one another about their experiences, she said.

"We are ramping up our analyst activities and will continue to do so. But there are also a lot of independent research reports like one from International Data Corp., which found that the return on investment for Linux is 504 percent over the next three years. Thats not research we funded, and those studies are also important," she said.

Rymer said that based on the study findings, the primary sources of Microsofts cost advantages are that the J2EE application server and Unix-based database software used in the Linux development and deployment stack drive up product costs and development complexity relative to the comparable Microsoft products.

Microsofts tools also simplify development of applications like those profiled in the study when compared with the J2EE/Linux products. This simplification translated into lower labor costs for development, he said.

Rymer also noted that each of the models is based on an application scenario that was common among the interviewees. Both are portal applications. Both composites assume the same application development scenarios to allow for comparability.

The report presents both the financial and the non-financial factors evident in choices made between Linux/J2EE and the Microsoft platform by the interviewees, he said.

"It is only when the low prices of Linux are put into a larger IT context that their true impact on IT costs becomes evident," Rymer said. "In a head-to-head comparison, the list price for Red Hat 9 [the Linux version chosen for this study] is lower than the price of Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

"However, the key cost factor in the studys Linux cases was the J2EE environment, not the operating system. Although the cost of Linux is low, the impact of that lower cost on the overall cost economics of an application development project is small.

"The full development and deployment environment and the labor associated with the development project are the biggest costs. Comparisons of individual elements within the stack of software products required to build and deploy a complete application tell only part of the story and can be misleading," Rymer said.

Next page: Why Firms Are Adopting Linux.

Linux Adoption

But the study notes that in spite of Microsofts economic advantages over J2EE/Linux for the applications studied, many organizations will still adopt Linux, as the interviewees using Linux, in general, saw migration from Unix/RISC to Linux/Intel as their best opportunity to reduce costs while retaining their investments in Unix skills.

Microsofts Taylor agreed with that finding, saying that the company is dealing with a Unix migration play and will be releasing the next version of its Services for Unix product in the first half of the next calendar year. That software will provide new functionality and a similar environment for users, he said.

Asked whether Microsoft is seeing renewed interest in migrating away from Unix to Windows rather than to Linux as a result of the legal action by The SCO Group, which maintains that Linux is an unauthorized derivative of Unix, to which it owns the rights, Taylor said he has been fielding more questions about indemnification than in the past.

"Customers are way more interested in understanding Microsoft as a partner because of our ability to indemnify them than they have been in the past," he said.

Asked why Microsoft had commissioned and paid for the report in full, Taylor said this was part of the companys plan to provide credible, third-party fact-based information, so customers could make sound business decisions.

"The research showed that costs remain a big issue for customers: not just acquisition costs but also the total cost of ownership. This study understands and examines cost, benefit, risk and flexibility across medium and large organizations," he said.

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