posted by Ryan (aka Aurex) on Thu 10th Jun 2004 19:55 UTC
IconEver since Microsoft started publicly outing Linux with their "Get the Facts" campaign, I have seen numerous articles and studies about the TCO (total cost of ownership) of both products in a head to head manner. However, I have yet to see one article discuss the TCO for home users and small businesses. I have thought long and crunched many numbers to devise a conclusion to this years old debate and I think the results are obvious... Windows is way more expensive than Linux.

First off, let's pass off my background. I am not a corporate lackey, I'm not a programmer, I'm not a statistician and I'm certainly not a militant Linux user out to prove the inferior quality of all other OS's. I manage a small tech service company as lead technician. This means that everyday I'm working on dozens of different machines, with different problems, from different people. In homes, offices, and home-offices, I can tell you one thing for sure, Microsoft rules the desktop market. The catch is that I can't figure out why. So for the purposes of this article, assume you have my job and you're giving a quote to a customer who wants to get into a new system. Here we go.

For the 5 years that I have been doing this job, each year gets worse for end users. Viruses, upgrades, Microsoft's expensive office suites, spyware...etc. Yet I never hear anyone get so fed up with the problems that they just up and switch to something else. So here I am with my simple outlook on the whole situation. I would never suggest people actually go out and buy all of this stuff as there are better alternatives, but let's do this the way Microsoft thinks it should be.

Let's start with the basic costs of a Windows XP Home machine for an average user. We'll say about $500 with the OS (you picture whatever sort of system you want here). But wait! You can't go online with out Anti-Virus protection! Drop another $45 into Norton 2004 (complain if you will but it's better than McAfee in my experience). Want to type nice looking reports and make super fancy presentations for work?? That's another $400 for Microsoft Office XP Standard. That's STANDARD not Pro. If you want Pro, plop another $150 in there. And last, but never least, if you want to stay safe from getting your Gibson hacked, you'll need a firewall. That's another $30 for Norton Firewall (again, complain all you want, it's all home users understand). Total cost for a halfway decent Microsoft machine = $975-$1125

This of course does not include service charges for the other multitude of problems plaguing the Windows OS as of late. Spyware has grown to be worse than viruses. Most people reading this will scoff and say "Only an Idi.." and I'll stay stop right there. No matter what you think you know of the average user, you don't know it all until you see their systems every other day, filled and overrun with whatever the latest browser hijack or insertion tool hit the net last night. Normal users aren't as savvy as the rest of us, which is why studies say that over %70 of home users who have Windows machines online regularly, are infected with some type of spyware. This is like saying that over %70 of said Windows machines are infected with viruses. So for the average user here we'll say about $60 a pop for getting a system cleaned and updated at a service shop that knows what they are doing. God only knows how many times a year people will have to pay for this so use your imagination.

If I'm getting long-winded here just hold on. Take everything you've read above, and slap it into a small business with say 15 workstations running Windows XP. But this is a business that just bought a shiny new Windows 2003 Small Business Server! We'll say $2500 for a small server. Oh yeah! Pull out your checkbooks and pay another $150 per machine for Windows XP Pro (if you didn't know, XP Home is crippled to not be allowed to join a Windows domain). What? You need additional licenses to use the Exchange 2003 Server built into the Windows 2003 SBS Server you just paid for? Another $33 per machine (these are starting to sound like board game penalties). Basic TCO per machine for this small business = $1308

This is a company without a tech staff, so they rely on regular service to fix network issues, clean viruses, patch systems...etc. So again, use your imagination with this. $60 per hour, per machine, to clean out a virus. The costs just go on and on. Now let's look at the alternative, in this case a Linux environment.

Since most of you know the ins and outs of the Linux world, I don't have to tell you that almost every Linux distribution comes with everything the user may need: OpenOffice, Antivirus, client apps...you name it, so there aren't many additional costs per workstation. Let's say we're going to use Suse 9.1 pro as the desktop. Drop that same $500 from above into a system. For businesses we'll use Suse OpenExchange Server 4.1 for the server. So pay that same $2500 into a small server. In this instance we're pretty much done. For now, there aren't any spyware threats, or massive outbreaks in Linux capable viruses. So who needs all that other stuff?

This is all just my personal opinion on such discussions about TCO. I just wanted to see an article talking about the majority of users around the world, and not a study on massive corporate costs. Granted, there will always be problems with any piece of software and nothing is perfect. But living in the present, wouldn't you rather vacation away from the operating system that causes the most harm to your productivity and entertainment?

About the author:
I live in Illinois and run a tech service shop which keeps users from the problems listed above.

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