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Black views on white papers

Reading the news via the handy (though often-ignored) AvantGo on my Pocket PC recently, I encountered an advertisement for a white paper from Microsoft offering a case study on costs of ownership for Linux versus Windows. This has the potential to be either informative or tragic, I said to myself, as I chose to download a copy.

Reading the news via the handy (though often-ignored) AvantGo on my Pocket PC recently, I encountered an advertisement for a white paper from Microsoft offering a case study on costs of ownership for Linux versus Windows. This has the potential to be either informative or tragic, I said to myself, as I chose to download a copy.

The case study in question is on US retailer RadioShack. The executive summary is unsurprising, given Microsoft's ongoing desire to argue that costs of ownership are critical when weighing up server operating systems:

However, the company's 11-year-old, UNIX-based point-of-sale systems had reached the end of their useful life and had to be updated. After an extensive evaluation in which RadioShack compared Windows and Linux, the company selected Microsoft Windows Server System and Windows XP Embedded because the platform offered lower long-term costs, less risk, better alignment with long-term technical strategy, stronger vendor support, and better use of existing development and IT operations skills.

The company's move to Windows will reduce the number of servers in its stores by 50 percent and save millions of dollars in hardware, software, system management, and support costs.

What's both interesting and a tad deceptive are the details which the MS team omit from this summary, even though they appear later in the discussion:

* RadioShack didn't simply do a Windows versus Linux comparison; they also weighed upgrading their existing UNIX platform.

* A key selling point for Windows Server was that it could be used as a platform to keep running RadioShack's existing UNIX POS system, rather than requiring a whole new system to be implemented. Of course, 'RadioShack unwilling to abandon UNIX application' wouldn't make such a great yarn from Microsoft's point of view.

None of this is to deny that, in the end, RadioShack chose Microsoft's core server technology and appear to be very happy with it. But IT executives aren't stupid.

Tech buying decisions are rarely black and white, and white papers that act like they are generally prove less than useful.