Linux or Windows?

By   |  July 13, 2004

The operating system debate today revolves primarily around Microsoft and Linux. To date, most arguments have focused on the technology itself instead of the operating environments of the two. While business leaders may dip into the debate, they rarely get to grips with the operational ramifications that strategic decisions have on the IT department and its ability to support the business.

The debate is also typically propagated by Microsoft, various Linux server and client operating system vendors, and various technical professionals on both sides. Exceptions to this are few and far between, but because of the sensation surrounding the debate, they have been highly publicised, such as the South African and German governments\’ decision to use Linux.

However, while the German government may have a large and experienced IT division backing its strategic decisions, the South African government does not, and not all companies do. The South African government accepts that investing in this technology will be tough, but an investment in these skills improves our local intellectual property and reduces offshore spend.

These clients should not have to determine which technology to back, as that is not their core business. As IT has become a business tool, the strategy needs to be aligned with that of the business, but customers tend not to have in-depth technical skills and should leave technical decisions to professionals with whom they have a trust relationship.

Customers may initially argue this point, suggesting that they should retain control over their IT infrastructure and should be ultimately responsible for the technology decision. Yet think of the PABX as a perfect example of a technology that is deployed based on the service it delivers to the business, not the brand or the embedded code it features. It must, of course, support certain standards, which a service provider will ensure it does if it\’s going to derive its income from the quality of the service.

Businesses should spend the time and effort ensuring that the business processes are adhered to, the proper contracts established and managing the relationship. Part of that process is choosing a service provider which is understands the technologies and is bound by service level agreements (SLAs) to deliver the best working solution with the highest value and return for the customer on a penalty-versus-reward basis. This ensures the service provider is deploying the best technology for the business\’s needs. However, it does require that the service provider interact with the client at board level and is empowered to align business objectives with those of IT.

If clients insist on making the technology decision and forcing the service provider to support their choices, then they are tying them into a potentially negative commitment before it has left the ground.

For instance, some clients may be technology-curious and know a little about open source software such as Linux. Realising the initial purchase price is zero, companies may insist on using it, without realising that there is an after-deployment total cost of ownership to consider. The same argument applies to Microsoft\’s Windows. While there are many good reasons to deploy Linux, there are also many good reasons to deploy Windows, depending on a number of factors such as the environment and business needs and strategy.

The issues at play are well documented, such as a listing of popular Linux myths and realities by US publication, CIO.com, derived from research by AMR Research. Four of the most common myths according to the publication are:

· Linux resources are scarce and expensive;

· Code developed on Linux is available for public consumption;

· Linux adoption does not change the way IT works today; and

· Linux is going to die out

It states that the four most common realities that juxtapose those myths are:

· Linux skills are easily transferable or grown;

· Only changes to the Linux kernel are released into the public domain, whereas custom application development remains private;

· Linux adoption requires new IT processes to be successful; and

· Linux has staying power

The figures tell another interesting tale of two operating environments. In a press release, research firm IDC states: \”Microsoft will hold its position in the worldwide operating environments market through 2007, despite continued competition from Linux.\” Microsoft\’s share of the server operating environment market in 2002 was 55,1%, growing by 4,6%. Linux\’s total was 23,1% of the market, but growing by 9,6%.

The fact is, Linux is making inroads into Microsoft\’s dominance of the server operating environment, but it is not a cure-all. What often transpires is that a combination of proprietary and open source products allows the best business benefits to be realised. Businesses choosing one over the other based on facts and figures such as those presented in this article run the very real risk of having it backfire on them for any number of reasons. They should rather have a professional service provider assess their environment and business needs, align IT with those and make the technology decision last in the process.

Michael Brunzlik is MD of Technology Systems Integration (TSI)

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