Windows is often the most intuitive choice from the CIO's perspective. Just like in the old days, when "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM," Microsoft is safe, at least from the stockholder's perspective. "That's what we've always used, and it works" is a phrase you're likely to hear coming from above and below in the corporate hierarchy. Lately, however, more and more companies are discovering that they have alternatives when it comes to choosing an IT infrastructure, and that there really are some sound reasons not to go with Windows.
Think the argument in this article is a load of hooey? Believe that it's the most accurate examination of the Windows in the enterprise? Be sure to read the other viewpoint in Five Business Reasons for Adopting the Windows Platform.
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Everyone in the IT industry today knows that proprietary operating systems and the applications that run on them will cost you a lot of money on licensing fees. According to a recent Forrester study, U.S. companies overall are expected to spend $100 billion on software maintenance in 2007. For startups, licensing fees could make it difficult to bootstrap without large sums of capital, and for growing companies, per-seat fees are profit-eating monsters. Other operating systems charge fees, even open source, but at rates up to 85 percent cheaper than what you'll pay for a Windows infrastructure. Scott Wilson, an IT consultant at Indigo Moon Systems in Seattle, says the biggest problem with proprietary licensing fees is that you can't predict the financial hit you'll take from year to year. "You don't know what impact it is going to have over the life of the implementation, nor can you control what that lifespan will be."
Microsoft itself admitted that a large percentage of its customers don't understand what licensing rights they have purchased. A document titled Solving the Mystery of Windows Desktop Licensing says: "Microsoft's Windows Desktop OS policies have been in effect for over 10 years and the policies are written in the Volume License Agreements [VLAs]. However, we have found that nearly 44 percent of volume license customers believe that volume license rights include the full OS, and 40 percent of volume license customers report they have acquired naked or unlicensed PCs, putting themselves at risk of noncompliance with their Volume License Agreement."
That's because in a volume license agreement, full operating systems for workstation PCs are not covered-only upgrades. In other words, you'll have to purchase a separate, complete operating system for every workstation in your company, before the VLA comes into effect. Depending on the number of end users in your organization, using a Microsoft VLA could add significant unbudgeted expense.
"You need to throw lots of hardware at it," says Central Desktop founder Arnulf Hsu about Windows. The minimum hardware requirements for Server 2003 call for a Pentium III 550MHz, 512MB of RAM, and at least a 3GB hard drive. Linux, on the other hand, can go on an old Pentium II with only 64MB of RAM and 1GB of hard drive space. The more servers you have, the more it adds up. Scalability is limited in Windows too. Wavell Watson, an IT consultant from Austin, Texas, calls it the Scale Out Strategy Option. "Google doesn't even use RAID drives in their solution," he says. The Web search giant has built its own server farm of almost half a million CPUs from commodity class PCs running Linux. Yet, Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds told The New York Times that Google's computing costs are probably about half of what other competitors like Live Search are spending, and a mere tenth of what most traditional corporations shell out, despite his assertion that Google is now likely the fourth-largest server manufacturer, after Dell, HP and IBM.
Beyond scalability is modularity, says independent IT consultant Allan Reed. "What I love about [non-Windows operating systems] is that I can deploy only what I need to. I can take an old 486, put about a half gig of memory on it and install a minimal kernel with Firefox and a couple plug-ins, and have SugarCRM up and running in no time with exceptional performance. I can extend the ROI on my equipment that has been sitting around gathering dust. I may not be able to write it off, but I don't have to buy another PC either."