Apples to apples

Bob McMillan, who wrote tons of interviews and analysis for Linux Magazine before joining IDG News Service recently, reports today on a Microsoft-sponsored Forrester study that finds Microsoft cheaper than Linux/J2EE for enterprise software development. As Bob points out, what largely accounts for the difference is the price of the BEA and Oracle software used on the Linux side of the fence. Others can (and will) dissect Forrester's motives and objectivity, but the report is, on its face, unsurprising. It's reasonable for a Linux-based enterprise to choose BEA and Oracle, and it's obvious that these are expensive choices. Interestingly, the report says that some shops prefer Linux despite these higher price tags, for cultural and/or strategic reasons.

I'm bothered, though, by Forrester's eagerness to blur the distinction between base operating systems and layered development and service platforms. For example, the cost of system administration is pegged at an identical $200,000 in both large-organization scenarios. Say what? The patchfest that Windows has been lately costs no more to manage than Linux? I find that hard, no impossible, to believe. I'm also not sure I'm willing to accept Oracle -- which runs on Windows too, let's not forget -- as a fair swap for SQL Server. I like SQL Server 2000 just fine, but it's long of tooth nowadays. And Oracle has been pushing the envelope aggressively. An enterprise will run Oracle because it thinks it has to, not because it has chosen Linux and then gone shopping for a database.

The Forrester study is an equation with too many variables. Some of them can be held constant, and I'd like to see that done. For example, the study mentions Zope and PHP but dismisses these as not being serious options for the task at hand -- what Forrester's John Rymer calls "mainstream portal style applications." I wonder what NATO, which has based its worldwide intranet on Zope, will make of that? Note that although you can also run Zope on Windows as well as Linux, hardly anybody (according to Zope Corp.) does.

Of course, Visual Studio.NET is a darned productive environment too. It's a shame we can't make an apples-to-apples comparison. Wait, I've got it! Microsoft just needs to port VS.NET, ASP.NET, and the CLR to Linux. Then we can settle this thing once and for all.

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