There was much hoo-ha following the visit by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to Munich earlier this year, when he tried to persuade the area's local government to change its mind about dropping Microsoft Windows in favour of Linux. He failed.
Does the decision of a bunch of Bavarian civil servants tell us anything about the appetite for open source software in the wider world, and does it have any pointers for what your customers are thinking?
Outside government, the answer seems to be no. Over the past 12 months Quocirca Research has looked at end-user adoption of open source software.
The results show that at the start of 2003 only 19 per cent of European companies had actually implemented Linux anywhere, and 57 per cent said they were not considering doing so. Why is this?
The overwhelming reason is that customers do not want to introduce another operating system (OS). Is this because although non-commercial versions of Linux are free, the cost of deployment and management in existing complex environments is too great?
A functional server requires far more than an OS. The total cost of a server stack includes hardware, systems software, application software and networking and security components. Add to this the cost of deployment and management services.
Microsoft claims that the total cost of deploying a server stack based on Windows is cheaper than Linux, despite the fact that you pay for the OS.
Needless to say, Linux's biggest fan, IBM, counters this; figures provided by Big Blue tend to focus more on the OS.
Can we rely on guidance from the IT industry's leaders? Not really, because they are partisan. IBM has committed to Linux in a big way. It is the biggest investor in the development of Linux, with 300 of its own developers dedicated to working on the OS.
Hewlett Packard (HP) is much closer to Microsoft, with which it has a strong partnership; most Microsoft systems software is delivered on HP hardware.
It should be said that neither HP nor IBM are hamstrung by their high-profile support for Windows and Linux respectively; they will support either OS, or their own versions of Unix as required.
Perhaps it is time for a reality check. Even among the adopters of Linux there is great variation in the use they are prepared to make of it.
Linux is not widely used for the deployment of applications software, even by fans. Adoption on the desktop is also limited; ask IBM what OS its employees are choosing as they roll out their latest home-working initiative.
The use of other open source software is also limited among Linux users. There are even more parts of the server stack for which end-users are prepared to pay.
To state the obvious, resellers need to make money out of the systems they sell. Income will come from a mix of product margin and services.
Microsoft has a point: when delivering an application you need to consider the cost of the whole stack and the services required to implement it.
Using Windows may reduce service costs by more than the cost of Windows itself. Using Windows may mean that today there is more choice of applications software, giving your customers more control over functionality and cost.
You should start by looking at the customer's application requirements and work downwards.
Provided you can make a profit on delivering a functional application at an acceptable cost that fits well with your customer's existing IT infrastructure, you may find that whether you use 'open source software' or not is irrelevant.
The reality is that today the solution you deliver is still far more likely to be based on Windows than on Linux.
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