Proponents of open-source and proprietary software are exchanging blows "on the wrong battleground" said Gartner Research vice president Andrea Di Maio today.
Di Maio argued that while open-source disciples have arranged themselves on a front encircling Microsoft and its widely used operating systems, they should instead be pitching their battle in the application arena.
In Australia, Democrat senators have introduced legislation to promote use of open source in government before both the South Australian and Commonwealth parliament. In each case Microsoft has been the main target of the party's criticism of proprietary software.
Also, Sun Microsystems has persistently attempted to undermine Microsoft's dominance of the government desktop market by highlighting potential licence cost savings available through its alternative desktop software, Sun Java Desktop and StarOffice.
However Di Maio, who today advised government representatives on how to assess the value of public spending on IT, said that debate focusing on Microsoft licensing alone was inadequate.
According to Di Maio, governments could save far more by using openly-developed enterprise level applications than they would buying fewer Microsoft operating system licenses. His comments touching on controversial total cost of ownership studies comparing Microsoft and Linux software were picked over by both sides of the debate.
Both IDC and Gartner have published reports attempting to address the question of which operating system is cheaper to run, but neither has produced definitive answers. Both analyst groups say that it can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
While Di Maio believes that the open-source debate had become displaced he conceded it was good for "keeping Microsoft under pressure".
Di Maio said if nothing else, the Linux-Microsoft face-off had given organisations a useful negotiating tool.