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Linux can save you money!

A usenet posting from Rex Ballard who always posted excellent comments.

Subject: Re: The Microsoft Ethic: Re: M$ -- the Clinton of Software Companies?
Date: Mon, 01 Dec 1997 17:13:21 -0600
Message-ID: <>
Newsgroups: comp.os.linux.advocacy,,,

[Edited by Tracy]

> The $1 billion figure intrigues me. Saving that much money just by
> eliminating the roughly $150 per machine acquisition cost of NT
> seems extreme. Was it training and support costs too? Was Linux
> going to reduce those items? I'm truly interested in how that
> much money would be saved.

Many of the machines in question were 486 machines with 16 to 32 meg.
Many of the machines to be upgraded in the next 2-3 years are P/90s with
32 meg and 600 meg hard drives. Even the P166s won't have the juice no
run NT 5.0. It costs $1000 just to get a guy to open the box. The chips
are cheap, but the "paperwork" is a killer.

Add to the $150, the cost of MS-Office and 2 upgrades. Add the overhead
of the upgrades, and the disruption of unsyncronized versions (WFW 6
can't read Office 95, Office 95 can't read Office 97...). In addition,
the Minimum assumes you don't have word documents with embedded Excel
spreadsheets, charts, visio drawings, and a third party e-mail package.

> I doubt that the help system made people consider Windows
> 'revolutionary.' And the fact that other systems had it first is immaterial.
> Windows happened to be the combination of the right technology for
> the right price at the right time. All the things that were embodied in
> Windows were doubtless available elsewhere, but not together and
> not at the right price (free is not always right for companies).

In 1990, one of the big selling points of Win 3.0 was that every button
and every application had "Help". Price was a big sticker in several
ways. Sun SparcStations were too expensive, SCO cost over $2000 for a
fully configured system, Linux wasn't "ready for prime time" until late

Until 1996 I would only reccomend Linux for someone who wanted a cheap
Web server and/or wanted a reliable alternative to Windows 3.1 or WFW and
was willing to spend some time training themselves on UNIX. The
self-training investment isn't substantial, but it isn't insignificant
either (I wouldn't send a $100/hour consultant to a 2 week UNIX course).

The Red Hat 4.0 release was a major upgrade. I was able to give the boot
floppy and CD to a nontechnical user and watch them install the system
with little problem, in less than an hour. I did have to tell them that
they had an S3 video chip.

Caldera makes it look almost too easy. I installed it in about an hour,
and didn't type a shell command or edit a configuration file through the
whole setup. I even ended up bringing up documents and creating new ones
without resorting to the shell. Even the evironment could be edited
using a gui tool that let you add, delete, change one variable at a time.
I'm thinking about giving it to some friends and family for Christmas.

> >Linux is stable, fast, runs on smaller (cheaper) machines, and provides
> >hundreds of tools that make it possible to customize the system to meet
> >my (or by business') needs. I get thousands of applications and
> >components, tools to put them together, AND server capabilities, for
> >under $60. Not bad. I liked it so much, I had no problem spending an
> >extra $100 for an Office Suite.
> Acquisition cost is but one measure of better. Training, system setup,
> support all dwarf the acquisition costs.

Which is why Linux wasn't ready for "prime time" until late 1996. Recent
releases of Slackware, Red Hat, and Caldera linux have matured to the
point where I would suggest them for non-technical workstations or for
home users who wanted to do things like create web pages.

System setup today is comparable for either system. I have had much
trouble with NT when I have changed configurations. When I pulled the
soundblaster card, the system wouldn't even boot. I still can't get 95
to recognize my Soundblaster CD-ROM.

There are other expenses give Linux the edge. NT and 95 lock-up, freeze,
and give the blue screen of death. There is time lost due to corrupted
OCX variables. Third party software is a high-risk gamble - even Lotus
Notes or Netscape can cause the system to hang, especially when there is
an overloaded TCP/IP router on the network.

Corporate development projects are a nightmere. The VB applications
appear to be trivial initially because the layout, which consumes the
bulk of the time in scripted applications, can be built in a few hours.
When the "if on tuesday" logic (business rules, security, contract terms,
discounts, and regulatory compliances coding gets added, the system
instantly turns into a nightmere. Add to that some third party OCX that
isn't threadsafe, and you suddenly have a development nightmere. A
project originally projected for 2 months isn't even ready for Beta after
a year.

Meanwhile, some wisenheimer (like me) has hacked the thing up an a Linux
box, after hours, in 3 weeks, allocating less than 2 hours/night. Those
patterns became perl script, the from became HTML script, the complex
business rules became YACC script, and we added a few PERL associative
arrays. Encryption is simple calls to crypt, compression was "compress".
The system pulls together like tinker-toys. When it's all done, the
Unix guy can find the slowest stuff (CGI execs of PERL scripts), write a
few lines of C, add a few lines of PERL, and the whole thing is running
lean and mean.

For a bit of "Glitz", we add a bit of Java.

Then of course, there are those wonderful documents. Word users spend
months formatting "RaNsOM FoNTs", tables, sheets, and graphs, to please a
supervisor. The final document is then rejected because it did not
incorporate input from the right community. In Linux, we'd hash stuff
out and get a consensus before we even thought about creating a
production document. We'd put the document on a restricted Web page.
We'd get feedback via e-mail or newsgroup, and by the time the production
copy is complete, all that's left is the rubber stamp.

There's a mentality that says that flat-ascii an a newsgroup is like the
dialogue at a workgroup meeting. The minute someone starts throwing in
beautifully formatted Word attachments, the free-flow of ideas stops and
the political power-struggle begins. Suddenly, everyone is sending
updates to the "Moderator" and good ideas are discarded while
"politically correct" ideas are forwarded as consensus even if the only
supporter is the moderator.

> >Microsoft gives me a cheezy editor,

I was referring to notepad. Prior to Notepad I had Brief, buttonware,
microemacs, and a VI workalike. After notepad text files became very
scarce and large ones were turned into Word documents when they were

> vi and emacs are better in many respects, but ease of learning
> for a non-computer type is not one of them.

Emacs for Linux under X11 is very nice. It has been configured to support
the PC keyboard and has some menus for things like cut and paste. To the
novice user, it looks a bit like a clunky version of Word. There is also
crisp and Seyon. Joe is pretty easy, and there's a Wordstar workalike (go
ahead and laugh, I do :-)).

The most important factor in the proliferation of Linux is that the
general public can buy a copy, take it home, install it on a fairly
simple machine, and learn about Linux, UNIX, the Internet, the Web, and
build a working full service system, for under $60. That's cheap
"tuition" to learn a system that required a BSEE to even access 10 years

The PC market was nothing back in 1982. Microsoft and IBM depended on
the good will of 3rd party developers, hobbiests, users, and customers to
expand the software base, technical support, and user acceptance of
PC-DOS. Today, Microsoft doesn't believe it needs anybody. It alienated
3rd party developers years ago, thinks a hobbiest is someone who spends
$1500/year for corporately sponsored MSDN membership, and buys a $5000
machine every 6 months. Users aren't even allowed to call Microsoft
directly (corporations spend millions on "supported" software and more
millions on "help desks", and still don't get a solution to Blue Screen
of Death bombs.

Microsoft sales are growing at 20%/year, the OS sales mostly through OEMs
is nearly flat. Linux OS sales are growing at a rate of 10-20% per
month. Even using the more conservative 5 million copy figure, it will
be only a few months before Linux starts displacing a substantial number
of Microsoft Systems, even if only as a coresident operating system.
Using figures based on sales of products like MS-DOS, and Partition Magic
(dead givaways that a system is being upgraded with Linux), the numbers
approach 10 million users and growing at 15%/month - giving Linux 20
million by the end of 1997, 60-80 million by the end of 1998, and 240
million by the end of 1999.

With a bit of advertizing, positive press, and a few more NT 5.0 delays,
this two year timeline could be compressed to less than 12 months. That
could give Linux 25-40% of the former Microsoft market. Add to that,
compitition from BSDi, Solaris, and SCO and Microsoft may be in for a
very unsettling year.

I won't count Gates out of the game. He has found his way around
contracts, formed seemingly insane partnerships, and has manipulated the
press, the user community, and corporate management to save the ship
several times, when even his most ardent opponants thought he was

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