I would imagine that the title of this article will offend many. That being the case, I shall start by saying that I have been, and continue to be, a dedicated protagonist of Linux ever since the mid-90’s when I got a free Red Hat distro at the Computer Expo in New York City. I was hooked. Today, my personal machines are mostly various flavors of Linux. The ease of customization has made the OS perfectly suited to just about any project I had in mind.
And therein lies one of the big problems….
Customization equals expense in the business world
In order for IT, whether insourced or outsourced, to support a population of desktop or laptop computers efficiently, it is imperative that there be a ‘standard image’. Every computer must have the same OS, the same UI, and a substantially similar suite of applications. Exceptions must be made for specific cases, such as engineering or production control computers, but every deviation from the standard equals an increase in support expense.
A deskside support technician may need some time to familiarize him/herself with a non-standard machine. In large machine populations, the cumulative time required for familiarization with customized machines becomes a large, yet undocumented, expense. For remote support staff, the problem is even greater. Instructions that would remedy a situation on a standardized machine may worsen a situation on a customized machine. Now the cost of lost productivity starts to add up.
Microsoft has provided the tools to ‘lock down’ a Windows installation in a domain to ensure that the OS stays standard and supportable. With Linux, there are no such mechanisms.
This is a prime example of short-term vs. long-term gains. Any immediate savings in licensing costs realized by using open source operating systems and application suites are generally exceeded by the support costs.
Ah, there’s another point. Application suites. We’ll have to cover that in another article.