Forrester: Linux development can be more costly

Creating and maintaining a custom Web-based application with Java and Linux is almost 40 per cent more expensive than using Microsoft's software, a Microsoft-commissioned report from Forrester Research claims.

The report estimated the cost of building custom Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and .Net applications within large and medium-sized organisations. Forrester based its cost estimates on interviews done with IT staff at 12 sample organisations.

The study found a huge gap in software maintenance costs incurred by the two approaches, due in large part to the price difference between the BEA and Oracle software that Forrester compared to VisualStudio .Net and Microsoft SQL Server.

Software maintenance in a large organisation was estimated at $US160,000 annually for a Linux/J2EE development effort, as compared with just under $US46,000 for Microsoft users. In medium-sized businesses, the costs were $US7,775 and $US7,158 respectively.

The other major cost difference was in the time companies would spend on software development, which was increased by about a third for J2EE/Linux companies.

"If you're doing these mainstream portal style applications, you're probably going to have a faster time to market if you're using the Microsoft tool set," a Forrester vice president and co-author of the study, John Rymer, said.

Forrester estimated that the total cost of developing a custom Linux/J2EE application and supporting it for three years would be just over $2.2 million. On the Microsoft platform, the cost dropped to the $1.6 million range.

The study examined Linux and J2EE's cost only for Web portal types of applications, Rymer said, and should not be taken as a blanket statement about Linux.

"It's a statement about Linux in a certain context," he said.

More sophisticated applications, such as trading systems or telecommunications management systems, were areas where Linux might make sense, he said.

"With those sorts of applications, you might get an advantage out of going with Linux and J2EE," Rymer said. "One of the things we didn't study was re-hosting. If you've got existing Unix applications and you're not going to change them, and you just want to reduce the cost of your platform, then Linux may be a good choice for you."

Though they would have significantly reduced the software costs in the study, application development approaches based on free databases or scripting tools such as PHP (PHP Hypertext Processor.) and MySQL were not considered, Rymer said.

These free tools were not used by the sample organisations interviewed in the study, five of which were running Linux.

The Forrester report is the second broadside on Linux by Microsoft in the last week.

Last Thursday, MS released benchmark numbers showing that Windows on Intel had better price performance than Linux on the IBM z900 mainframe when it came to file and Web serving tasks.

After conceding that its previous, more emotionally charged attacks on Linux had backfired, the company changed tactics and in July resolved to fight a fact-based campaign against Linux. The Forrester study is another part of this campaign, according to Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, Martin Taylor.

The Forrester report can be found here: