Linux firms rubbish Microsoft's customer win

Microsoft is delighted that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is swapping Linux for Windows - but the open source community is highly unimpressed

Microsoft’s latest customer win has failed to impress members of the open source community, who insist that it doesn't prove that Windows is superior to Linux.

On Monday Microsoft announced that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) had replaced its Linux Web server with a Windows alternative to save costs and improve its Web offering. "RICS's decision to migrate to Windows will see reduced costs, improved content management and integrated back-office systems with its Web portal," claimed Microsoft.

But open source companies such as Linux vendor Novell, open source application server vendor JBoss and open source consultancy Netproject claimed that RICS did not evaluate Linux properly before making its move. As a result, the move cannot shed any light on the relative merits of Linux and Windows, the three companies said.

In an interview with ZDNet UK, Richard Carlson, the head of business systems at RICS, admitted that the company did not do a comparative study of Linux and Windows.

"We didn't do, say, a three month evaluation of Linux," said Carlson. "We decided that we should evaluate the Microsoft offerings first. Once we realised what a powerful set of tools they were, it became self-evident this was the right way to go down."

RICS uses predominantly Microsoft-based technologies, so when it decided to bring its outsourced Linux Web server back in house it decided to switch to Microsoft technologies to consolidate its architecture and take advantage of its in-house skills. Carlson expects to see lower costs following the move.

"It fitted in with our corporate strategy — everything else on the landscape was Microsoft," said Carlson. "We have a team of 20 people who are all very well qualified in Microsoft technology. None of them have much knowledge of Linux side of things — if I wanted to invest in Linux I would be investing in technology and skills."

ZDNet UK asked Carlson what the company would have done if it had one Windows server in a predominantly Linux environment. "I wouldn't like to say," said Carlson. "It would be a totally different scenario."

RICS is running Microsoft Commerce Server 2002, Content Management Server 2002 and BizTalk Server 2004. Carlson claimed these Web applications are better than their open source alternatives. "Windows gives us everything Linux could not offer: advanced content management and an integrated e-commerce infrastructure that can be managed in-house," said Carlson in a statement.

But Eddie Bleasdale, the director of Netproject, said that by not evaluating it RICS has "not given Linux a fair trial".

Brian Green, Novell's European director of Linux solutions, said that if RICS did not evaluate Linux, it cannot know whether Microsoft is cheaper. "As the customer has acknowledged that he didn't do a study on Linux, how can he say he's saved money?" said Green.

Green said RICS main motivation appears to be to bring the Web server back in house, rather than to move away Linux.

"The customer didn't even own the Linux infrastructure — all their infrastructure internally is running on Windows. They seem to have migrated from a hosted service to an internal service and are claiming it is a migration to Linux," said Green.

Sacha Labourey, JBoss' European general manager, said it is unfair to compare Linux with Commerce Server and Biztalk as they are different beasts.

"It's like comparing apples and oranges," said Labourey. "They say they've migrated from Linux to Biztalk. We're speaking about two very different things — Linux, which is an operating system and Biztalk, which is Web integration software."

Netproject's Bleasdale said he was surprised that RICS was moving to proprietary Web technologies, as the Web is one of the areas where open source has more market share than Microsoft. Almost 70 percent of Web sites are run on the open source Web server Apache, while only 20 percent are run on Microsoft servers, according to this month's Web server survey from Internet services company Netcraft.

Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft, claimed that RICS was facing a common problem of having an individual installation of Linux in a Windows environment. "We are finding increasingly that where Linux has made its way into companies it has been put into place as point solution," said McGrath.

Green vehemently disagreed with Microsoft's claim that Linux is being run for point solutions. "Nick McGrath's claim that Linux is a point solution amazes me," said Green. Oracle grew its Linux market by 360 percent [in 2003, according to a Gartner database market report]. Since when has Oracle been a point solution? I'm staggered."

Although Green disagreed with some of the points made by Microsoft, he said any publicity Microsoft generates by broadcasting RICS' move is good for Linux.

"From Novell's standpoint it's interesting that they [Microsoft] are in such a defensive position," said Green. "Any vendor that promotes Linux is good for Novell."