Thursday, 04 December 2008 03:05

Replacing Linux with Windows saves £1 million

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A UK company says its switch from Linux to Windows will save it £1 million (almost $A2.3 million). How does that work?

According to a case study published by Microsoft, British tool and equipment hire specialist Speedy Hire has junked the Linux and OpenOffice based systems running in its depots in favour of Windows and Microsoft Office.

Why? Because the company expects to save £1 million over five years. Saving £200,000 a year doesn't sound quite so impressive, but we'll let that pass.

The hardware running in Speedy Hire's depots was due for replacement, so the savings started with the choice of Wyse V90 Winterms rather than regular PCs.

"We discovered that the personal computers required to roll out Windows XP Embedded operating system using Citrix were much cheaper than those required to run Linux,” said infrastructure manager James Fleming.

It's hard to tell whether he's talking about a like-for-like comparison. A thin client for Windows might be cheaper than a full-blown desktop PC, but Wyse bills the V50 as the Linux equivalent of the V90, and it is cheaper.

So we'll leave a question mark over hardware costs, at least in terms of generalising this to other companies.

Where else do the savings come from? See page 2.


Another area where Speedy Hire expects to make big savings is in support costs.

Fleming claimed "the exorbitant cost and limited availability of support left us worse off" even allowing for the fact that the software was free.

"The restricted choice of support and the fact that we were confined to smaller consultants that didn't necessarily understand our needs as an enterprise left us feeling exposed – especially as we relied on them to maintain mission-critical systems," he added.

"The consultants we engaged typically had their own very particular ways of doing things and if they’d gone under we’d have been in serious trouble."

Don't the big players in the IT services market such as IBM and HP all had Linux expertise these days?

And maybe things are different in the UK, but in Australia there are more modest consulting firms that have been providing open source services to businesses for years.

Also, you have to question the advice Fleming has been given when he talks about "the lack of automatic updates and security patches [for open source software] that forced us to rely on pricey third parties to perform upgrades".

Is that correct? Please read on.


Don't the major distributions such as Red Hat, Ubuntu and SUSE provide for automatic updates? And aren't some of the updates automatically delivered to Windows systems for Microsoft's benefit rather than the customers'? (Think WGA.)

So again we'll give this claim a question mark rather than a tick - after all, there might be something about equipment hire that certain Windows consultants understand better than anyone else.

Application software is another area where you have to question the like-for-like basis of comparison.

"Previously we had to go through the rigmarole of converting customer-facing documents from OpenOffice to Microsoft Office Word or Excel," said Fleming.

Huh? OpenOffice reads and writes Word and Excel files!

Still, Speedy Hire isn't the only company in this business to experience user-acceptance problems with OpenOffice. Earlier this year, The Standard reported open source consultant Lindsay Holmwood telling the linux.conf.au conference that Kennards Hire experience significant user backlash over the introduction of OpenOffice because the role of Microsoft Office documents had been underestimated.

And when it came to the software used in the hire operations, the comparison was between an old 'green screen' proprietary application (and haven't we all seen those running behind the counter on a Windows PC) and a modern GUI application, Microsoft Dynamics AX.

An apples and oranges comparison? Please read on.


Small wonder that Fleming said "With the old open source software we ran before switching to Microsoft, employees would tell us they felt like they were stepping back in time when they came to work."

So all you Linux mavens - is there a modern equipment hire application for your favoured operating system? Or an ERP application that, like Dynamics, can be used for this purpose?

And while we're looking for feedback, what do you experts have to say about Fleming's claim that "We also felt vulnerable to security breaches because of the less stringent authentication protocols compared with Microsoft Windows"?

As for "We also don’t miss the complaints about sluggish performance, applications seizing up, and disappearing icons that we used to get with open source", that sounds just like my Windows PC!

Another part of the money-saving equation seems to be that increasing the number of Windows based systems reduced the total licence fee by 20 percent.

That sounds odd to me. You'd have thought that adding at least 500 licences would increase, not decrease the cost. But according to Fleming, "We moved to a different banding in our existing Select Agreement, and then switched some areas to an Enterprise Agreement.

"The Enterprise Agreement will save us a lot of money by consolidating licensing."

If Speedy Hire really can save their million quid, all power to them.

But do those of you with knowledge of both Microsoft and open-source products think that is achievable? Tell us what you think.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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