Jonathan Hilgeman

Everything complex is made up of simpler things.

Archive for December, 2008

Linux versus Windows

One of the ZDNet bloggers is apparently a Linux fanboy, and he ran out of good material and decided to spark reader interest by starting a flame war. His blog was about what it would take to convert a Windows user – a school superintendent – to use a Linux distribution.

Hundreds of posts later (including mine), Linux users assume that Windows users are idiots who can’t use Linux. Windows users assume that Linux is too hard for the average user. People like me who use both for different purposes, explain why both can co-exist in many (but not all) cases… and then get thrown under the bus by both sides.

Personally, I use a Windows XP desktop and I also use Linux operating systems for many of the servers I administrate, although it depends on the situation. Not every screw needs the same screwdriver.

I am versed well-enough in security on both systems to be able to use both effectively without creating an open relay, a zombie, or becoming free online storage for movie pirates. But that’s not every user and not even every system administrator. Good security comes at a price, and that is ultimately the decision maker/breaker for many companies:

So when it all comes down, here are questions to ask yourself when you compare Windows against Linux (when used as a desktop operating system):

First, are you a home user or a business user?


1. Is there anyone else in your household that would have problems using Linux (e.g. grandparents) that might need to use your computer?


1. What are the initial training costs? For example, let’s say each user being converted takes a 3-hour class run by someone in IT support, and the company sells a product that costs $200:

Tim A. – $10/hr. salesperson – $30
Julie R. – $10/hr. salesperson – $30
Terence L. – $12/hr. support – $36
Two lost sales because Tim and Julie were not selling – $400

This is a pretty conservative number (hourly rates and times are realistically higher), but let’s say initial training costs are $496.

2. What are the ongoing support costs? Windows users don’t become experienced Linux users in 3 hours – there will be a slightly increased rate of support questions, since the users are now having their normal support issues plus additional questions about system differences.

Let’s just say that the users get the hang of it pretty well, so they only need 1 hour extra per month of support time over the course of 1 year. That translates to 24 hours of additional support time for the year for 2 converted users:

24 hours @ $12 / hour for support – $288

Not too bad as long as support has that time to spare. If not, then you’re either looking at another support person or overtime.

3. What are the system administration costs? If you’re on a Windows network (domain), then chances are that your system administrator has his/her own security setups. Group policies, patch automation tools, remote administration tools, and other things that may only affect Windows PCs. Let’s assume the following costs (again lowballing the number):

Linux Sys. Admin training – $1500 for a workshop or books and time or other forms of training (this includes the inevitable time taken by the admin to test their newfound knowledge)
Additional Tools – $2500 (just because the users’ desktops are open-source doesn’t mean the correct admin tools are)

I’m leaving out some probable scenarios, but at least this is a one-time cost (albeit a hefty one) – $4000. A system administrator’s time comes at a price, even if he/she is only an expert in Windows.

I’m going to stop there and say that for the first year of converting two users over to Linux,  you’re looking at a little over $4750. Four users would probably bump it up to around $5200, and the price would probably jump in those types of increments. After the initial hump, you’re still looking at roughly $260 of initial training costs per user (again assuming the user could sell a $200 product within 3 hours of training time).

Yes, Linux is free. Time is not. For many businesses (especially small businesses), a $260 training cost outweighs the price tag of Windows XP Pro.


Larger companies may be able to reduce the variety of use on the operating system so that users are simply pushing a few on-screen buttons on one application instead of launching programs, browsing the web, printing, etc… 

If they have such an interface, then training time and potential loss of sales is GREATLY reduced, and Linux could potentially result in a fantastic way to save money, since you’re eliminating the need to learn a new operating system.

Face it, Linux fanboys, Linux desktops (KDE, Gnome, or otherwise) are not intuitive to Windows users. They are SIMILAR, but not the SAME, and the AVERAGE user will need training to use one of them. Eliminate the learning curve, and Linux is your winner. But if your users will be needing to do everyday office activities, Windows is still less expensive.