by Art Jahnke

Is Microsoft Less Expensive Than Linux?

Nov 01, 200310 mins
Open Source

Until recently, if you wanted to find someone who thought that a Windows-based program was cheaper than one based on Linux, you had to go all the way to Redmond. No more. Not since Microsoft paid Forrester Research’s Giga Research to conduct a comparative study of the costs of developing a Web-based portal. The study compared the costs incurred by five large and midsize companies that used the Java 2 Enterprise Edition with costs incurred by seven large and midsize companies that used .Net applications. For large corporations in the study, the cost of using Microsoft products for development and deployment plus three years of maintenance was 28 percent less than the cost for J2EE/Linux. And for midsize companies, the Microsoft route was 25 percent cheaper. Of course, it’s not shocking that a study commissioned by Microsoft should demonstrate the advantages of that company’s products over Linux, but the fact that the study was commissioned at all reveals Microsoft’s concern. And for good reason. IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher) recently reported that sales of Linux servers are growing faster than those of Windows servers, and Gartner tells us that the sales of servers running Linux are up nearly 60 percent from a year earlier. In short, it’s a very good time for Bill Gates to pull out his checkbook and order up some market research.

Forrester analysts John Rymer and Bob Cormier explain that the study intended, among other things, to inject some rational thought into the emotional debate between Linux-leaning ideologues and the rest of the world. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the report is that it demonstrates the ideological battle over Linux is moot. Like those “rebellious” presidential candidates who admit that they inhaled, Linux is now a major part of the establishment. Take a look: The Giga Research study found that the biggest cost advantages of Microsoft products came in comparison to the cost of Linux-based products sold by monster software makers Oracle and BEA. According to the study, large corporations paid $80,000 for Oracle’s database, compared with less than $40,000 for Microsoft SQL; and they paid $60,000 to BEA for development tools, compared with $12,500 to Microsoft Visual Studio .Net. Midsize companies, the study found, enjoyed savings of similar proportions.

What would the cost savings look like if the companies that paid big bucks to Oracle and BEA had used free Linux-based databases and scripting tools such as PHP and MySQL? Giga doesn’t know because, as Cormier explains, it didn’t look at any such companies. He says that Giga—not Microsoft—decided which companies to look at.

In the spirit of fairness, the study does point out that it examined only the cost of Web portal applications using Linux and Windows, and that similar cost-benefit analyses of more sophisticated applications may favor Linux.

What do you think? Is Microsoft less expensive than Linux?

Sound Off is a weekly column about current IT-related issues. Web Editorial Director Art Jahnke ( always welcomes feedback.

I think that this analysis is completely flawed. Giga Research analyzed the cost differences using the wrong tools. This is more of a J2EE versus .Net cost comparison—not Linux versus Microsoft.

Oracle is more expensive, and it will drive the cost of using a Linux-based solution higher than a Microsoft solution. What about SAPDB, which contains many of the features of Oracle but is free? It is far more robust than SQL server, MySQL and PostgreSQL. Firebird is a good example too. Obviously, Giga was paid not only to make a cost comparison but to make sure Microsoft came out on top.

Any Web application can be better off run on Linux. That’s all I’ve used; that is all I will ever use. Linux can easily be brought onto the corporate desktop, but it may require a little more work then porting a Microsoft Web server to Linux.

Jason Latonio


International Securities Lending Exchange

I am an ms developer and like to toy around with Linux. I believe that Microsoft’s products are superior as they are more integrated and enable me to produce robust, powerful solutions easily and neatly. The largest costs within companies sporting custom-developed systems are, after all, the salaries of the developers and contractors—and not the software being used.

However, Linux is improving very rapidly, and this is due to organizations adopting and contributing to it, which might eventually result in Linux being the number-one OS and the tools also being number one. Keep up the great work, Microsoft and all you Linux OS dudes—remember, competition is the lifeblood of our industry.

Stephen Ensor



After more than 25 years using all sorts of Unix variants and Microsoft products, all I want are services where the OS is transparent and the quality of the service is measured independent of the developers’ preference to one OS or the other. Give me secure appliances for development, and I don’t care if they run on Linux, Windows, IOS or some ASIC-based operating system.

Dennis F. O’Brien


Keynote Security

We in india liken buying windows os to buying an elephant (minus the strength): Buying it is easy, but how about maintaining it?


Work out the percentage of your i.t. budgetthat goes on software and compare it with your staff costs. The question is not the price of software but the relative productivity of developers, admins and users. On those counts, Microsoft wins hands down. Linux is free only if your time is worthless.

Bill Smithers

IT Manager So, what this study tells me is that for certain types of narrowly defined development projects, targeted for certain narrowly defined platforms and environments, I might save money by using all Microsoft tools—if certain assumptions apply to my situation. Well, that’s certainly convincing. But, then again, I’ve seen the same caliber of argument from the other side as well. It strikes me that both sides always argue for an all-or-nothing solution. It makes more sense to me to use whatever platform and OS are most appropriate, and then to use tools that are platform and OS agnostic, such as ColdFusion. At least it’s as easy to learn as Visual Studio and more portable than PHP.

Danny Shaw

Chief Knowledge Officer

Children’s Hospital Boston

PHP/MySQL development is far cheaper and easier.

I’ve been developing with PHP since PHP/FI 2.0 (over five years) and would choose PHP over any other existing Web-based scripting tool regardless of cost.

It’s fast, powerful, easily extendable, less overhead than Java, and very easy to use and embed into HTML. It’s also free and you get the complete source code.

Giga’s study is comparing apples to oranges. For its study to have any merit, it would have to compare the exact same products (J2EE on Windows versus J2EE on Linux).

The most distressing thing about the publicity over this study was how nearly every article had the headline “Windows really is cheaper than Linux,” and far too many people read only the headlines.

Derek Snider

Senior Programmer


The study is not well conducted. you can’t compare Oracle versus Microsoft SQL or BEA versus Visual Basic .Net. Cost of purchase using the same database server and development tool is clearly against Microsoft. Development costs also creep in if you take into account the millions of lines of source code you find for Linux platforms, enabling developers to reuse it or to see how things are done, shortening the development cycle.

Juan Toro



Is a three-year study a long enough time frame? I believe it is a great flaw in the calculations: As we all know, a Microsoft license is valid for only one product and may not be upgraded free of charge. Thus, when the product leaves the customer without support after the five years defined by Microsoft, the company needs to acquire an updated OS once more. With Linux, you won’t see this cost.

Kenneth Andresen

Unix Administrator

Why not an entire open-source solution? instead of building a portal from scratch (the Microsoft approach), you could get a full-featured one. The same open-source community that built Linux, Apache and PostgreSQL also delivers great tools like Zope, TWiki, PHPNuke, Drupal, GNU BIS and Slash.

A smart CIO should at least evaluate the open-source solutions before even thinking about building his own.

Qaz Trew

CIO Applications, licenses and development tools are not the only costs. Don’t forget the expenses of system crashes, viruses and other failures that are much more likely to happen in the Windows environments than in Linux. These errors not only affect the primary user, they add costs for those who are waiting for this user to recover the error. This carries on like rings on water, summing up to a huge expense. If Giga Research really wanted to produce an interesting study, it would check how many hours a week people deal with computer failures on average in the two respective computing environments.

Rein Ytterberg

Consultant The cost of Microsoft software is about 5 percent of total cost of ownership of IT. The cost of free Linux plus expensive Oracle or BEA equals more than low-cost Windows plus low-cost SQL Server. But even if the Linux platform software was cheaper, it is still more expensive than Microsoft because the people costs are much higher (but then the Linux bigots wouldn’t want to admit that). For evidence, go and read the pro-J2EE camp’s comparison of developing the same application. Go and read how long it took just to work out which bits of free software actually work together (

Charles Lancaster

IT Manager I’d like to see a few studies put a number on the total hours of downtime and service degradation due to exploited vulnerabilities and botched upgrades.

Daniel R. Haney

System Software Engineer

For small to midsize businesses, who needs Oracle? I mean, honestly, if you are going to run a major portal on Windows would you use SQL 2000 or Oracle? Any smart person would go with Oracle. (Same as on Linux.) But if you are running a small portal to support 200 to 300 users, you could go with a small setup clustered for load balancing. Who would user Oracle in that situation? moved to Linux almost two years ago, and I have yet to hear rumblings of Linux costing the company more money or causing it more headaches.

Microsoft has found a force it cannot stop. Even if there is no cost savings, nothing can beat open software. Software you can tinker with, software that could have but could not hide spyware. Software that unlike Microsoft you could if need be develop on your own to fit your needs.

Tyrone Miles

Network Engineer


There are open-source alternatives on the Microsoft platform too.

If we are to purely base the analysis on price concern, then don’t forget there is an equally large number of open-source alternatives on the Microsoft platform as well. Since the study seems to be based more or less on commercial off-the-shelf software, then the price-ROI analysis has some merits. Going with open-source options of course will save a lot of initial investment cost; however, in my company’s case, we were more concerned with availability of tech support and upgrade options. Such criteria almost always will favor commercial off-the-shelf solutions.

K. Chen

Software Engineer