Gartner: Desktop Linux savings overstated

Gartner: Desktop Linux savings overstated

Using a Linux OS (operating system) might save you money on your servers, but most enterprises shouldn't expect to see the same cost saving if they switch their Microsoft Windows desktops over, according to a report from Gartner.

In the latest of a series of Linux versus Windows papers to be published by research companies recently, Gartner said that while many servers are dedicated to running a single application, and can therefore be replaced quite easily, the desktop environment is more difficult. Most workers use many different applications, all of which would have to be replaced or rewritten, it said.

Last week, Microsoft released benchmark results that it said showed Linux on the mainframe performed poorly against Windows 2003 in terms of value for money.

Earlier this week, Forrester Research released a Microsoft-commissioned report saying that creating and maintaining a custom Web-based application with Java and Linux is almost 40 per cent more expensive than using Microsoft software.

This rash of announcements was greeted without great surprise by Linux advocates.

"We heard (early this year) that Microsoft was going to fight against Linux with paid studies, so this doesn't surprise us," said Christian Egle, a spokesperson for SuSE Linux.

"They said they were going to fight the argument that Linux brings down the total cost of ownership, by initiating studies to show that (their products) are better and cheaper," Egle said.

"These studies are being greeted with a pretty good round of scepticism, and I think most people see it for what it is. And Microsoft is obviously worried about something, if they're throwing a whole lot of money at it," Joe Eckert, SuSE vice-president of corporate communications, said.

However, Michael Silver, a Gartner vice-president, research director and one of the report's four authors, insisted this research was not paid for by Microsoft and that the report was balanced.

"It's very logical that there are places that make sense for Linux and others that don't. Enterprises are often trying to make an all-or-nothing decision and that doesn't always make sense," he said.

Gartner chose to do this research because it tries to keep ahead of the curve on new technologies as they become popular and to see what the total cost of ownership of each would be, he said.

Migrating desktops to Linux only makes sense in a limited range of situations, Gartner said. It should be considered only if there are relatively few applications involved and relatively low- or fixed-function applications such as data entry or call centre automation. In these cases, the cost of migration may be low enough to justify the move, Gartner said.

Any migration decision must be made based on the total cost of ownership, Gartner said. The cost of ownership is higher with older versions of Windows, and so a move from Windows 95 to Linux may make sense financially, it said. Later versions of Windows are generally more stable and incur lower costs, Gartner said.

Microsoft didn't like these findings, about low-function situations and older versions of Windows, Silver said. "And of course customers need to look at the research and modify it for their own companies. This is based on North America and western Europe, but if the labour to capital ratio is different, if their labour costs are low, they may come to a different answer. I think it's a very balanced report," he said.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

The Gartner study, Linux on the Desktop: The Whole Story, is available on the Web at

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