We're starting to see PC vendors routinely offer OpenOffice.org and other free software -- for Windows -- pre-installed in some of their products. This is good. But I have been spoiled by the all-in-one nature of the typical Linux distribution. I install it, I start it up, and I have everything I need to jump right in and do desktop-level work immediately.
Since most popular Linux distributions have a free or nearly-free version available that includes necessary desktop applications, and virtually all of them can be installed and configured in well under an hour, we're talking about a tiny TCI (Total Cost of Installation).
On the admin front, one of my relatives has a Linux desktop I set up with Mandrake over three years ago that is still running today. In other words, the admin cost since installation has been zero. All of her friends who have Windows have had to do multiple reinstalls in this same time to solve various problems. Some have simply replaced their computers.
No formal TCO study
I have not done a formal TCO study on my home network or my relative's computer, but I suspect that if we did one we'd find that we come in at the low end of the scale. Our hardware expenses have been minimal, our software expenses are effectively zero, and even if you include install time, we're talking about less than half an hour per year of admin time per system.
We keep getting told that under certain limited circumstances it's possible that Windows can be more cost-effective than Linux. I'm sure I could design studies myself that would prove this to be so -- and I'm equally confident that I could come up with testing methodologies and circumstances that would prove DOS, Amiga or Sun Solaris is less expensive than either Windows or Linux.
But in my own experience, as a desktop user, Linux is the hands-down TCO champion, and in my opinion Linux is now the desktop operating system that's easiest to get going -- once you include the time needed to install and configure necessary applications software, plus utilities like popup blockers, spam filters, and firewalls, all of which are included in almost every user-oriented Linux distribution.
But gloating is rude, so let's just smile quietly instead of boasting about Linux. We don't want people who use other operating systems to get jealous of us, do we?