Open source software is never completely free, in the financial sense. Even if the applications themselves are available at no cost, businesses still need to pay for support, training, data migration and other needs. But just how much open source costs can be open for debate.
And the cost of open source was the source of a public debate recently between the German city of Munich and software giant Microsoft.
Munich’s municipal government is currently carrying out a plan to migrate 13,000 of its office computers from Windows NT to Linux, and switching from Microsoft Word to the open source equivalent OpenOffice.
It’s a big and costly project — the work began in 2004 and will finish later this year. However, Munich conducted an analysis and determined the move to Linux and OpenOffice will end up costing the equivalent of $30 million, while the city would have spent $45 million to stick with Microsoft, for total savings of $15 million.
But after the city went public with those figures, Microsoft did some research of its own, with help from HP. And by those companies’ calculations the migration will likely cost $80 million, more than twice as much as what Munich reported. That estimate included guesses about how much the support should cost and how much IT staff time would be required to complete the migration, as well as the costs of porting business applications to the new platform.
City stands by open source
In response, Munich has stood by its original report, ZDNet reports. Representatives have said that the number of IT staff needed for the project is much lower than what Microsoft has estimated, and that Microsoft’s numbers assume that all 13,000 machines have been running Linux since 2004, whereas in reality they’ve been switched over gradually.
Also, rather than porting applications, in many cases the city has found an open source equivalent or web-based equivalent, a spokesperson said.
While most experts are more inclined to trust Munich’s figures — since Microsoft has more to gain by fudging the numbers — the lesson here is that sometimes open source might save money, and other times it may not. Businesses should conduct their own thorough research before deciding what’s best for them