Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java Desktop System and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Desktop are built on free software, but neither is free of cost.
Both desktop Linux products have annual, per-machine subscription fees, although its possible, with either product, to cancel a subscription and continue using the software indefinitely without updates or support. However, the availability of software updates and support is one of the biggest draws for enterprise-oriented Linux distributions.
Suns Java Desktop System 2 costs $100 per desktop per year or $50 per employee per year. (Sun is offering promotional pricing of $50 per desktop or $25 per employee until the end of this year.) The management framework for Java Desktop System is included in the price of the system.
Red Hat Desktop is sold in packs, and, in contrast to Java Desktop System, self-hosted management tools cost extra. A Proxy Starter Pack, which includes Red Hats Proxy Server and 10 one-year desktop entitlements, costs $2,500. The Satellite Starter Pack comes with Satellite Server—which enables companies to self-host the Red Hat Network service—and 50 one-year desktop entitlements for a price of $13,500. An Extension Pack with 50 entitlements costs $3,500 ($70 per desktop).
Both the Satellite Server and Proxy Server editions include a copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS, Premium Edition—a bargain, since this application costs $2,499 on its own.
Java Desktop System 2 and Red Hat Desktop ship with StarOffice 7 and OpenOffice.org 1.1, respectively. To compare the costs of these packages against a combination of Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP and Office 2003 under Microsofts Software Assurance license subscription plan, we visited www.licenseonline.com for a price quote on the Microsoft products. (Microsoft doesnt disclose volume pricing to the press.)
For 500 desktops, the price for each Microsoft-loaded system was $636.83. This price covers the full license cost of Windows and Office and two years of upgrades, but no management components.
The roughly $640 in software costs per desktop for Windows compares with $140 for two years of Red Hat Desktop or $150 to $200 for two years of Java Desktop System (depending on whether you factor in Suns promotional price for the first year.) This demonstrates the level of software savings companies can expect by moving to Linux when and where it makes sense. Particularly for basic needs, retraining costs should be minimal.
Of course, companies can cut their software costs significantly by swapping out Microsoft Office for OpenOffice.org, which is free.