by December 4, 2001 0 comments



It may appear strange that an article on OSs and office suites is being carried in this issue. Surely, they are not significant decision points for a CIO. Wrong!

After the basic hardware (PC or server), these two are the most common bits of software that your organization uses. These are also what often add to your budget, with you needing to buy one set per user. So, you may well want to consolidate all purchases of OSs and office suites, instead of buying them piecemeal. Also, this is one place where the cost of upgrades is regular and significant. Adding a twist to the tale is the option to go in for free or very inexpensive
alternatives.



Just because it is free…

Should you move to Linux (or StarOffice, or whatever) just because it is free? On the flip side, should you upgrade your Windows or MS Office to Microsoft’s latest version?The answer is an unqualified no.
You need to weigh the cost of the move (or the savings when you move to free stuff) against the business benefits you get. And not against bragging rights–“We use Linux on all desktops” is as bad as “we use only the latest Windows on all desktops”, if the associated cost is not paid off by derived business benefits. 

First, the facts of the situation: In desktop OSs, Microsoft has a virtual monopoly. But there could be requirements that are better served by say Solaris or Linux or a Mac. Keeping that aside, the prime decision when it comes to the desktop OS is when to upgrade rather than what OS to choose. In server OSs, the competition is very fierce, with at least three choices–Windows, Linux and Netware–in the PC server (Intel or similar CPU) space. In office suites, too, there is a Microsoft monopoly, but there are at least three other choices–Smartsuite, StarOffice and Easy Office.

One primary concern in any of the above scenarios is the total cost of acquisition or upgrade. Very clearly, the initial costs of Windows and MS Office is way higher than that of the competition, and often that is the point that sets you thinking for alternatives.

So how do you decide? One way is to mix and match. Let us take servers first. An organization is likely to have more than one server; it’ll have application servers, file and print, e-mail, and servers with gateways and firewalls. A judicious mix of Linux and Windows could see your license costs coming down.

Coming to desktop OSs, the first question is whether you need to upgrade your OS every time the vendor upgrades it. You may not need to; at least not immediately.But, if you decide to upgrade, a bulk license (called the open license, in case of Microsoft) would be cheaper than upgrading piecemeal from retail packs.

In the case of office suites, MS Office has all the bells and whistles, but has a price tag to match. If your need is plain, vanilla word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, then MS Office though nice could be an over kill from the budget angle. 
Of the competition, StarOffice is probably the most compatible. But version 5 is a pain to use because of the time it takes to open up and load a file, though version 6, which is currently in beta, has overcome this limitation. Easy Office is a lightweight suite that meets most basic productivity needs, though presentations have a long way to go. A mix-and-match solution could lead to a confusion of file formats. A better solution is to opt for standardization across the organization. When it comes to upgrades, our advice is the same as in the case of desktop OSs. Check whether there is a compelling feature in the upgrade that will bring you business benefits. If your answer is an unqualified yes, then the solution is obvious.

Krishna Kumar

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