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Microsoft study overlooks Windows biggest cost

Total-cost-of-ownership studies from Microsoft fail to tell the most critical part of the cost equation: the cost of exit.

Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft has been a little quiet on the "independent TCO (total cost of ownership) study" front for at least a week now, so it is perhaps not surprising to see the company promoting a new TCO study comparing the cost of deploying Linux and Windows in emerging markets. Vital Wave Consulting, that paragon of research (no, I've never heard of it, either), published the study.

But who wrote it is somewhat immaterial here. The problem is that the research fails to acknowledge the biggest cost of working with Microsoft: the cost of exit.

First, to the research. As Microsoft's James Utzschneider, general manager of Marketing and Communications for Unlimited Potential (Microsoft's euphemism for emerging markets), suggests, the study reveals that Windows is more expensive to acquire but that the cost of Linux-savvy administrators offsets that expense, making it a financial wash over five years.

This may very well be true, but it misses the point, as noted. If the cost is the same, buy Linux. Linux doesn't come with a monopoly attached to it. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, as this one provided by Roy Schestowitz does.

Microsoft, of course, has only dropped its prices to play catch-up with open-source pricing and to stave off piracy, piracy which company co-founder Bill Gates admits helps Microsoft as much as it hurts it in such markets.

About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don't pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.

That Gates quote was taken from a 1998 article in Fortune, and should be enough to clearly describe why inbound acquisition cost is the wrong way to measure a financial decision to purchase Windows over Linux. Indentured servitude is not what most IT departments are looking for in an operating system.

In short, I believe Microsoft's sponsored TCO study may have many flaws, but only one that really matters: it overlooks the cost of buying a one-way ticket into Microsoft's walled garden. The cost of entry may in fact be quiet low. But what's the price of exit? Open source makes the cost of exit as close to free as the cost of entry is. It's a software development methodology and a CIO risk mitigation strategy, all rolled into one.