Has Desktop Linux Missed its Opportunity?
The cost issue: "Free" Linux isn't the whole story
Having weighed all that, then, a potential desktop Linux customer's second question -- how much money will I save? -- can often be simplified even further: Will it be worth it?
Answering this question, however, can be incredibly difficult. The factors involved in calculating TCO (total cost of ownership) for an entire desktop OS environment, applications and all, are so numerous and complex that you might as well read tea leaves.
Just knowing when to switch can be tricky. Jumping ship to desktop Linux often means abandoning proprietary software licenses that have already been paid for. Depending on where an organization is in its normal upgrade cycle, that license issue could represent a significant hidden short-term cost.
Once the switch to open source is complete, the days of paying license fees will be over, but most enterprise customers will still want to pay for a support contract. How effective such support is at responding to any issues that may arise will determine how much those issues impact productivity -- and, by extension, the business's bottom line.
Some customers may prefer to do a "soft launch" -- switching some PCs to Linux while leaving Windows on others, for example, or using virtualization software to run key Windows applications. But this kind of hybrid environment requires IT to manage two OSes at the same time -- including user support, software updates, security, backups, and interoperability between the systems. And that drives up costs.
At the end of the day, on a per-head basis, the amount an enterprise spends on proprietary software licenses is insignificant compared to the amount it spends on salaries, health care, phone bills, travel, retirement plans, and other benefits. For a cash-strapped company in a down economy, Windows may be the least of its worries. The harsh reality is that, from an operations perspective, it may be much simpler and safer to cut costs by reducing staff than to implement a radical and disruptive enterprise-wide IT initiative.