Monday, June 24, 2024

Choosing Vendors: The Linux vs. Microsoft Red Herring

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A few years back I wrote my very first column for an online publication called Linux Pipeline on choosing software wisely. The column was to begin a series of events that changed my life because I used, as an example, a CIO who had chosen Linux for the wrong reasons. Now, to be clear, Linux may have been the right choice. What I was challenging was that the analysis that was done was focused on things that had very little to do which her company’s needs. And the choice was, by her own admission, made because she believed deeply that Linux should be the way the world worked.

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The column’s titled was changed to “Linux is Not Ready For The Enterprise,” it got picked up by SlashDot, which focused on the example and not the message – and you can probably imagine the legendary amount of hate mail that resulted. What was made clear, however, was that there were a huge number of people who were making product decisions based on things that had nothing to do with the needs of their business.

In hindsight, while the dialectic was on Microsoft vs. Linux (though, strangely enough I don’t actually recall bringing Microsoft up) it probably should have been on UNIX vs. Linux because, in most cases, the Microsoft offering wasn’t an appropriate replacement for UNIX at the time, either.

For a period of about 18 months, I too lost focus largely because I got angry about what folks were writing and saying about me and the frequent threats to my family and livelihood. What bothered me the most, other than the very real concern that someone might make good on their threats, was that it appeared Linux supporters were putting their love for the product ahead of their job responsibilities. As an ex-internal auditor, that is a huge red flag and much of what I wrote at the time focused on that.

Eventually this quieted down and shortly before Linux Pipeline went away in 2005 I wrote a column called “Time to End Microsoft vs. Linux,” where you can also find references to my earlier pieces in the sidebar (but you’ll note that the links are dead).

In that piece you’ll see I argue for a change in tactics by both sides which, in a way, mirrors the recent partnership between Novell and Microsoft. A realization that instead of fueling the battle between the parties, which really doesn’t serve customer interests, what should happen is for the two sides to come together, realize they meet different needs, and see if there is some common ground where both can focus on the needs of the customer.

Linux and Microsoft Sitting in a Tree…

One of the difficulties is that there is so much bad blood between the groups that I often wonder if I’m writing about Israel and Palestine rather than technologies. There are lines that can be crossed that make it incredibly difficult to reach common ground because people just don’t forget some things that are said in anger.

Novell and Microsoft seemed to grok that the best course is to cooperate, almost as if they had read my piece and took the course that should be better, long term, for both the firms and their clients. I’m actually becoming more and more convinced that the battle between the companies was largely created by the Open Source side for visibility and Microsoft simply fell, much like I did, into the trap.

If you look at the revenue sources for both efforts, you’ll see that Microsoft’s revenue largely comes from software and for Linux it is from services. Microsoft’s offerings are best when used in large numbers and generically, and Linux is best when used in small numbers and highly customized. The only area where there is tight similarity is in the embedded offerings of both companies but here both sides are under funded, Linux generically so, and Microsoft because of a very real fear of cannibalizing their full-featured products.

Now Linux and Windows, from a technology standpoint, are vastly different and we can’t even do that subject justice in 100 pages, let alone the space of a column. But, I think, in most cases the decision between Windows and Linux is easy, the decision between UNIX and Linux is vastly harder, and then picking the right distribution harder still. Yet our focus has been on making the easy decision hard rather than the hard decisions easy.

Novell’s apparent reason for partnering with Microsoft is to give them competitive advantage where the decision is hardest. It’s hard, from a business perspective, to find fault with that. Vendors that do the right thing for clients, regardless of how painful it is, should generally be favored in my book. But you should still do your homework and pick the best product, service, and hardware for your company.

Next Page: Vendors Who Eat Their Own Cooking

Vendors Who Eat Their Own Cooking

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One thing I don’t understand is vendors that hype products they could but don’t use. Years ago AT&T (the original incarnation of the company) was out trying to sell my firm Windows 95 and saying it would save us $1,500 per desktop a year in support costs. One, they weren’t using it themselves at the time, and two, our total support budget was under $500 per desktop with NetWare and Windows 3.0. Needless to say we eventually moved to Windows 95, but it wasn’t with AT&T.

More recently, and what actually triggered this column, HP acquired Knightsbridge, a specialized services company. The back-story is that this was because in their own deployment of Neoview they discovered they didn’t have the right skill set to do the job properly. HP historically has not been aggressive even with their own software and that was a lot of the reason so many people purchased but couldn’t deploy Open View.

It is only recently, and at Mark Hurd’s direction, that this changed. They are now discovering problems themselves and getting them fixed on critical products before you get them. This is the core benefit of companies who “eat their own cooking.” They understand more deeply what needs to be done and rather than glossing over problems with promises and marketing, they tend to get them fixed.

Now, just because a company uses something doesn’t mean you should, but at least it means they trust it themselves. And why would you ever buy anything from someone who didn’t believe enough in the product they are pitching to use it themselves?

Three Rules

There are four simple rules to keep in mind when buying anything:

1) Don’t choose the product first. Make sure you place your company needs as your first priority and establish a value before you negotiate price.

2) Assess the entire solution, not just the component. A great product without the right services or critical accessories is a hole you’ll pour money in.

3) Do your homework, make sure the vendor believes enough in the product or offering to use it themselves and that there are other like companies who have had successful deployments and that the benefits promised are real.

4) Make sure you can defend your purchase. There is a reason Sun’s numbers are getting better, it has to do with the fact that people are now having to demonstrate why decisions were made and being held accountable for the result.

My overall recommendation is to approach any decision as a process where the goal is to make your company better and not to make a vendor richer. You’ll be happier with the result and probably do better in your career as well.

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