July 16, 2003

How much more than Windows is Linux worth?

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

If you are the Munich City Council, Linux on 14,000 desktops is worth at least $3.8 million more than Windows, including critical applications, training, and support. And this decision wasn't made by a thin margin, but by a 50 - 30 Council vote. After this, can anyone still think the only reason some people prefer Linux over Windows is that Linux is free and Windows isn't?

The "Munich goes Linux" story has gotten big play in the tech press and a little attention in the general business and mass-circulation media, but almost no one seems to have commented on the fact that Microsoft underbid the SuSE/IBM Linux-based offering and still didn't get the contract.

Note that (buried) in this USAToday story were these key quotes:

Unilog judged Microsoft's proposal -- to swap out all existing versions of Microsoft Windows and Office for the newest versions -- as cheaper and technically superior. But the offer from IBM-SuSE better met "strategic" criteria set forth by the Munich council, says Harry Maack, Unilog project manager.

For instance, the council wanted the city's computers to be very flexible and provide a return on investment over a long period of time. Unilog first recommended that the city select a $39.5 million Linux package from IBM-SuSE over a $36.6 million standard upgrade package from Microsoft.

"On price and technical criteria the advantage was Microsoft's, but the gap was not that big," Maack says. "On strategic issues, it was clearly open-source, and the gap was very great."

Free as in freedom

If you scan enough stories about how Munich's leaders made their final decision, you'll see that freedom from vendor lock-in was important to them. So was the freedom to upgrade at their own pace instead of at one set by a company 10,000 miles away. (Indeed, it was apparently Microsoft's decision to stop supporting Windows NT that brought thing to a head in the first place.)

In other words, Munich's elected officials decided the Free Software Foundation's party line had some actual substance to it; that it wasn't just neo-hippie gobbledegook, but was a practical guide for hard-headed politicians working to get the best long-term IT value possible for their taxpayers.

Even a personal visit from Steve Ballmer, plus hints of special Microsoft pricing deals for all German government bodies, didn't manage to sway those freedom-loving Munich hard-heads.

Good for them!

Win some, lose some

The third-largest municipality in Germany switching to Linux has certainly caused plenty of happiness for Linux partisans. Less-noticed on Linux-oriented Web sites is the fact that Frankfurt and two other major European cities have recently signed contracts with Microsoft.

So right now, when it comes to European city desktops, Windows is beating Linux three to one.

Or you could turn that around, and say Linux has gone from 0% of European municipal desktop contracts to 25%. And that, my friends, is an amazing rate of increase, with the Munich contract made even more amazing because -- possibly for the first time ever -- Linux was chosen by a major user without price being the main consideration in its selection.


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