Don't be fooled, Linux is not free

Don't be fooled, Linux is not free

Summary: Is education IT ignoring the needs of its constituent users, which are far more varied than in most corporate environments? That which is least-expensive to buy is not always the most cost-effective and TCO can rarely be measured in dollars and cents.

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TOPICS: Linux, Open Source
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I just finished reading Chris Dawson's most recent piece (Linux definitely has a place in education) and I couldn't agree more, until he said ...

"If the choice is arbitrary, then would you rather pay hundreds of dollars (or many thousands or millions at the enterprise level) or would you rather use something free? What if the free products have arguable advantages outside of cost, as well?"

The fact is that, in a production environment, Linux is NOT a free solution.  There are costs associated with every solution and the relative cost of any solution is dependent upon many factors. In the end, no solution will serve all needs, nor will any solution, by itself, prove to be dramatically more cost-effective than another.   Nevertheless, a variety of solutions, when implemented in combination, can often prove to be more cost-effective than a single-solution approach. 

Whether working in an educational setting or a corporate one, many of the underlying issues are the same.  The main difference is the user-base being served -- often comprised of a much broader population (students, faculty, and administrators) with a wider variety of needs, and often a much more varied level of expertise, and personal goals. 

In a recent survey (see Is Linux right for your school?), I asked readers what operating system their school was using.  Not surprisingly, 42% of those responding indicated they were using Windows exclusively.  Another 28% said Linux was their school's operating system. 

The most interesting response though is that 24% of the respondents were using a combination of operating system solutions.  In my mind, this is the response that should have predominated, not Windows, and not Linux. 

As IT professionals working in an educational setting, we need to look at a variety of solutions and we need to remember that Linux and open-source are not synonymous.  Many, if not most, open source solutions are available for Windows and Macintosh platforms as well as for Linux.  In fact, open source solutions existed for UNIX before Linus Torvalds wrote his first line of code. 

The quote from Chris Dawson's piece presents two false assumptions:

  1. That education IT pays substantially more for one operating system solution than it does for another.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  Educational and corporate discounts bring the price of commercial Windows and Macintosh licenses in line with desktop Linux licenses.  This pricing parity extends itself to server licenses as well. 
  2. That, in a production environment Linux is free.  Education IT is no different than any other production IT environment.  In such a setting, the ability to get reliable vendor support is a mission-critical need.  Once again, vendor support contracts are in parity.

The other variable, which Chris fails to mention is local expertise.  Chris has spent the last several weeks experimenting with two commercial Linux products in order to provide us with insight regarding these two very capable products.  What we forget is that Chris came to education IT after several years in enterprise IT.  His depth of experience exceeds that of many working in education IT today and many school systems have little access to personnel with professional IT experience.  Oh, and if you have followed his writing over the last couple of years, you know that Chris is not a single-solution kind of guy.  Under his leadership, his school has implemented a robust mixed-solution environment utilizing Windows, Macintosh, and thin-client Linux and his school district has established life-cycle funding to insure that money will be available to replace aging hardware and software as his district's needs change. 

Even at the university level, experienced IT personnel are outnumbered by bright young people with very little professional IT experience.  In a production IT environment, lack of real-world IT experience can be a recipe for disaster.  The University IT department must make significant investments in training to keep its staff up-to-date on the latest trends in IT. 

Unfortunately, K-12 invests very little on training its IT staff -- instead relying on self-taught personnel (and students) -- often with very little experience. 

Whether you work in the enterprise or in education IT, there is plenty of room for mixed-platform solutions built upon a needs-based analysis of all available options.  There is no room whatsoever for decisions based upon bias or unfounded assumptions about solutions which which have not been thoroughly examined. 

Education IT personnel need to think like CIOs -- seeking cost-effective solutions to well-defined needs built upon three-to-five-year life-cycles.  Inexperienced education IT personnel tend to think like consumers trying to make today's best buy "work" without regard to future needs instead of considering the long-term TCO of what appears at first glance to be the cheaper solution.  Which are you?

Topics: Linux, Open Source

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30 comments
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  • Well that settles it

    Don't even think about Linux. Too risky.
    Thanks for the negativity.

    (You go Chris!)
    D T Schmitz
  • choices

    [b]"Educational and corporate discounts bring the price of commercial Windows and Macintosh licenses in line with desktop Linux licenses."[/b]

    You choose SuSE.

    [b]"Education IT is no different than any other production IT environment. In such a setting, the ability to get reliable vendor support is a mission-critical need."[/b]

    Amazon does it.


    The article was a bit vague.
    1. A break down on the initial cost would have been nice.
    2. As an educational institute, it does seem as if you used your credentials to negotiate the price on license and support.
    ruped24
    • RE:choices

      "You choose SuSE."

      # Ubuntu comes with full commercial support from Canonical and hundreds of companies around the world.
      # Ubuntu includes the very best translations and accessibility infrastructure that the free software community has to offer.

      "2. As an educational institute, it does seem as if you used your credentials to negotiate the price on license and support."

      Is it possible that Linux stands on its own merits? Most Linux users would yes. Use of Linux does not represent a rebellion against Microsoft and Linux stands on its own as a user preference.
      ruped24
      • You said ...

        "Use of Linux does not represent a rebellion against Microsoft and Linux stands on its own as a user preference."

        ... and you are correct but the solution needs to fit the need. Neither Linux nor Windows nor Macintosh should be selected 'out of hand' because no solution is suitable for every use. Nor is any solution a FREE solution. Each solution has costs associated with it.

        Education IT is unique because you are trying to serve the needs of many. In most fields, there are a handful of mission-critical applications. In education, especially in higher education, there are many disciplines dependent upon literally hundreds of applications -- both commerical and open-source -- which are not necessarily available on all platforms.

        The needs of the project, the needs of your faculty, and the needs of your students must all be taken not accounts on every project -- keepi9ng always in mind that at the end of your project life-cycle, you can make a different choice the next time around.
        M Wagner
    • Regarding #2 ...

      ... of course schools should use their credentials to negotiate pricing on licensing and support. That's what thinking like a CIO is all about.

      Nearly all vendors offer eudcational discounts but since most schools, whether K-12 or a college or university are affiliated with state or local government, negotiating volume licensing is not all that hard to accomplish.
      M Wagner
      • RE:Regarding #2

        "Nearly all vendors offer educational discounts but since most schools, whether K-12 or a college or university are affiliated with state or local government, negotiating volume licensing is not all that hard to accomplish."

        Exactly! good point.

        My post was about choice.

        So why choose Micro-vell? The M$ of Linux.
        And why do you need licenses for the Linux desktop?
        "That's 'NOT 'what thinking like a CIO is all about."

        I'm sure Ubuntu would have been much cheaper.
        No licenses needed, just buy support.
        "That's what thinking like a CIO is all about. "

        I'm sure another vendor would have been much cheaper.
        Use your "credentials to negotiate"
        " That's what thinking like a CIO is all about."

        Choosing Micro-vell would've gotten most CIO fired.

        This article has NO insight at what-so-ever!
        ruped24
  • Well ...

    That's because freedom isn't free. Let's see the right wing nuts try to twist themselves out of that one. ;)
    MisterMiester
  • Your almost right

    your dispute with Chris is uninformed at best,
    you say:
    "The quote from Chris Dawson?s piece presents two false assumptions:

    1. That education IT pays substantially more for one operating system solution than it does for another. This couldn?t be further from the truth. Educational and corporate discounts bring the price of commercial Windows and Macintosh licenses in line with desktop Linux licenses. This pricing parity extends itself to server licenses as well."

    Chris is absolutely correct here. The lowest cost of putting a legal copy of Windows XP on my desk (cd-rom with license) that I can find is 18.00$ per student, the cost of putting a legal copy of SLED10 from Novell is .50$ that's right 50 cents per year and it's still legal even if I stop paying because the 50 cents is for the update subscription. The lowest cost of an MS server I can find is 1150.00$ , I buy all the Novell|SUSE linux enterprise servers I need for 1.00$ per student per year, that could be one or a thousand the number of servers makes no difference, so in my school a million servers would cost me 1150.00$ per year for update subscriptions. ASK YOUR SOFTWARE PROVIDER ABOUT A NOVELL SLA AGREEMENT or CALL NOVELL DIRECTLY.
    My Mac licensing is well over 100.00 per device per year. I don't know the exact amount because I stopped paying and I'm still on OSx 10.3 which came with the iBook's.

    "you say: 2. That, in a production environment Linux is free. Education IT is no different than any other production IT environment. In such a setting, the ability to get reliable vendor support is a mission-critical need. Once again, vendor support contracts are in parity."

    Both Novell and RedHat have a much lower cost per year for full support than MS and it is only going to get better as local support from VAR's increases.

    To conclude, with software from Novell, RedHat and Ubuntu so easy to install and environmental configuration becoming less of an issue with each passing day. The cost of Linux both in acquisition and support do not even compare to just the cost of acquisition of MS software. Lets not forget the cost of clock cycles, RAM and cash lost to anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
    jasujt
    • I have no dispute with Chris ...

      ... aside from his statement. He understands the issues and has implemented a variety of solutions in his school. He also comes to the table with a substantial depth of knowledge. EdTech people in many schools do not possess his depth of knowledge.

      You cannot compare published prices for Linux with published prices for Microsoft or Apple products. To compare apples to apples, you need to work directly with vendors -- or you need to leverage the buying power of your state or local government. Besides, prices don't paint the whole picture. Ongoing maintenance and personnel costs also need to be factored in, as well as how well any one solution will meet the needs of your audience. That's why a mixed platform environement is better equipped to meet a variety of needs.
      M Wagner
      • RE:I have no dispute with Chris ...

        "Besides, prices don't paint the whole picture."

        So why "Don't be fooled, Linux is not free"?

        NO one said Linux was free as in, no cost to implement.
        Chris whole point was Linux is not free. DUH!

        You have ROI and TCO.
        ruped24
        • "Quien dijo que Linux no es [b]gratis[/b]"

          El titulo esta mal redactado, claro que Linux es gratis...obviamente esta persona esta es pro Windows. Linux es gratis, puedes desarrolar en el gratis, puedes "post" tus programas en el Internet gratis (open source). De que estas hablando Chris?
          cmd@...
      • I have no dispute with Chris ...

        "or you need to leverage the buying power of your state or local government."

        If we use this vision, developing countries and far schools on these countries had a big problem on your hands because they can't use this "power" to say a big company to get down your prices. If you talk about Singapore, this scenario can be fine but to small villages or poor countries below of Equator line, it's a shame.
        pmichelazzo
        • And that's where projects like OLPC ...

          .... come in. If it weren't for OLPC, the third-world would be forgotten. Now that OLPC has gotten some attention, some of the big guyes like MS and Intel are sarting to pay attention.
          M Wagner
          • Crippleware for the poor masses!

            MS provides VERY limited operating systems to third world populations in the spirit of computer literacy. Hmmm...limited OS, or full featured OS. What a dilemma!
            Jerry M. Gartner
          • Some would argue that OLPC offers ...

            ... no less lame a solution than Windows Starter Edition.
            M Wagner
  • Free as in free speech

    The GNU states that "free" in the context of GNU Linux, is like free speech not "free beer". My additional $0.02 about "Don't be fooled..." can be found at http://rackit.gartnerwebdev.com/2007/07/09/dont-be-fooled-linux-is-not-free/ for anyone interested.
    Jerry M. Gartner
  • Bench depth

    Quoting:

    "Unfortunately, K-12 invests very little on training its IT staff ? instead relying on self-taught personnel (and students) ? often with very little experience."

    In addition, should someone with a great deal of training and experience devote time to the schools and set up an even slightly elaborate system, the likelihood of replacement by sonmeone equally knowledgeable is low.

    It's possible that the inheritance of such an effort will be the cost of removing the elaborate system in order to obtain something with which a substantial number of the inexperienced and untrained are familiar.

    Many people willing to donate their time and expertise are not evangelists for the rare, but those confident of what they know of the ordinary. A partly volunteer system is especially reliant on the broadest possible bench.

    A suggestion, then: any system be evaluated by the likelihood that it can be maintained by the lowest common denominator inheritor.
    Anton Philidor
  • Linux is free

    A solution using Linux may not be free.
    The installation of Linux may not be free.
    The 15? installation CD blank may not be free.
    The maintaining of a Linux system may not be free.
    The ISP connection to download Linux may not be free.
    Your time may not be free.

    ... but, the last time I checked, you don't have to pay money for the privilege of using the Linux kernel.
    cyber_rigger@...
    • But time is money ...

      ... and if your IT staff doesn't know A LOT about the Linux kernel, learning to use it can be very costly.
      M Wagner
      • RE:But time is money ...

        "... IT staff doesn't know A LOT about [b] the Linux kernel, learning to use it[/b] can be very costly."

        Knowing what one needs to know, is invaluable.
        That is the black magic of IT.
        ruped24