Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why Most Businesses Still Use Windows.

On paper, Linux seems to be the ideal workstation operating system for the corporate environment: highly configurable, free, secure, easily deployed in a network, extremely stable.... So why are medium and small businesses, the backbone of the US economy, not switching over to Linux?

I have my own theories, working as an IT manager for a small company myself.

The points I make below are just my opinion, but I do not think I am very far off from what small and medium business owners are thinking.

1. Windows has been the standard for a while.
The standard in business is still Windows. Staying with the proven standard is safe. Risks can break companies and as many owners of small companies will tell you, "if it isn't broken, don't touch it"

2. Microsoft Office.
Microsoft Office is the standard for office suites. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not make Office for Linux. Open Office et al. are good for the basics, but not good enough. Yes, you can virtualize, and yes, you can run thin clients, but it is not the same as running natively (and you still need at least 1 copy of Windows running on the network). Plus virtualization or thin clients require an additional layer of software IT has to deal with.

3. Apparent steep learning curve to switch to Linux.
As easy as Linux windows environments have become, they are still different that Windows. Switching to a different environment, however user friendly the new environment may be, still involves a learning curve. Learning curves involve less productivity for a period of time. You do the math.

4. Starting from scratch effect.
It is very difficult for companies, especially smaller companies with fewer resources, to start from scratch. Starting from scratch implies time spent offline, and offline time is never good. Yes, the IT department can set up workstation and server virtualization for testing, and deploy workstations via clone images, and reduce offline time to a minimum, but try convincing the owner you are sure that will be no glitches during the switch. Again, their "If it isn't broken..." mantra applies.

5. Commercial software.
Small companies depend on commercial software. Chances are, the commercial software they use, call it Adobe Acrobat, or AutoCAD for example, will not run on Linux, even using wine to port. IBM, an adamant defender of Linux did not port Lotus Notes onto Linux until last year.
On the other side of the spectrum you have companies that have customized software that has not been/cannot be ported to Linux. Case example the company I work for. We use a customized version of Think3's ThinkDesign CAD program. We've invested a lot of money on this program, but we cannot port the program to Linux. In this case, it is impossible for us to deploy Linux, at least for the department that utilizes ThinkDesign.

6. External (liable) support for software.
Again the software issue. Yes, I know there are very good Linux native counterparts to Windows only software. however, a lot of them do not come with paid 24/7 support. Payed support is like a safety net for companies. If the IT department cannot fix a problem, they can always call the software manufacturer, who the company pays to FIX (written in capital letters) the software. The software manufacturer is then liable if it cannot fix the issue and causes data loss/down time to the company. Although very helpful, Forums are not equal to payed support.

7. Ignorance. This one is self explanatory. Linux is still unknown, uncharted territory if you may, and businesses tend to be very conservative.

8. Chain reaction.
"Our customers use Windows, so we HAVE to use Windows". I like to call this a the "chain reaction effect". Information might be "lost in translation" of we do not run the same systems that our customers or our suppliers use. If our big customers switched to Linux, we'd switch to Linux.
Again the standards problem.

9. Higher cost of IT
Windows networks administrators are very easy to come by. Kick a rock and you'll find 500 underneath. Linux network administrators are harder to come by, and more expensive. Owners do not like more expensive.

10. Security.
Expensive commercial antivirus give business owners a sense of security. Owners still want the perceived safety of an expensive antivirus, even on Linux.... so owners reason that "why go through the effort of switching to Linux if Windows with an antivirus is equally safe?".

Like I said at the beginning, these are just some theories, from personal experience, and thus they need not apply to all businesses.

Again from personal experience, I am also going to guess that because employees are used to working with Windows at work, and get all of their training on Windows, they are more comfortable using Windows at home, and will have a preference towards Windows over other operating systems.


kuriharu said...

A lot of good points, particularly when you mentioned commercial software. A lot of accounting packages (particularly Quickbooks) aren't available in Linux. (I know the server version is now but clients still need Windows).

Finding an "equivalent" isn't a solution either. Few businesses want to invest the time to train someone who normally can use Quickbooks to use an equivalent package in Linux. It will cost them more money in the long run to use something new.

Merlin of Chaos said...

Let me comment part by part:

1. Standard is not always what it seems, just because Windows has been used by the "average" user for a while now does not mean that it is the standard. Also, it depends on what kind of situation you relate to the standard. Such as if you think about servers, the standard is always going to be Linux, just like for gaming the standard is always going to be Windows. But the truth is, that even if Windows is the standard, then it doesn't say WHY it is the standard. Which is mostly because of all the vendor lock-in that Microsoft and its related customers do.

2. Microsoft Office, I'm laughing at Microsoft Office, the only thing that you get from Microsoft Office is a "brand" name, which is not even that, just like you define the word standard, just because it is used more, doesn't mean that it can't do the same things as Open Office, maybe it looks different, maybe it acts different, but that doesn't mean after some work, you can't get the same things done in either of the office suits. If businesses are really deprived of any features of eye-candy they should look into the sun platform applications, the Star Office app looks pretty good to be honest.

3. Learning Linux is not any more difficult than learning Windows. Just like it took you a few seconds to understand how to navigate a mouse, and use your fingers to type on the keyboard, so can you learn Linux, step by step. The only problem you'll have after using Windows is a bit of throwing out old/outdated habits from Windows, learning more efficient (faster) ways to do things which you never even thought possible because Windows is the only thing you know. The math that you're trying to do only takes in account the very little time that you're losing, but then if you take in account what you're gaining, that out-grows what you're losing.

4. It's true, taking a bit of time to learn a new environment is a bit frustrating, however, it's not mission impossible, and starting from scratch is never a bad thing. Think of it as a way to learn something new, something better and more efficient. Think of it as something that you're doing to improve yourself. When you have a bad habit and you want to quit doing it, what do you do? Just like any loser, do you just let it happen, or do you try to fix it?

5. Commercial applications are not necessarily better than free software application, most of the time they are even worse, and are just being sold for the money factor and many people don't understand that more money != better. However, if you take into account Linux coming from Unix tree, then you'll understand that when it comes to productivity, and getting work done, and not just when it comes to office suits, Unix/Linux can provide the necessary tools. Look at REAL companies that compete with Microsoft, most chances are that they support Unix or Linux in some way (Yeah, I'm talking software here). For example, IBM.

6. External, Liable, Paid support. Again, that's what you pay for when you buy Linux distributions, SUPPORT. That's just plain bullshit what you wrote.

7. Ignorance can be cured, stupidity cannot.

8. So if I use Linux and my friends use Windows, I should learn from them by example that there's a reason why they use Windows and perhaps even join them? Ok, I took it out of context, but it is still related. Companies do not have to use Windows just because their customers use Windows, they need to use it because that's what they work with, that's REALLY what they need. Also don't forget the vendor lock-in, the more you concentrate on one single platform, the more you forget that other platforms exist, and for example, YOUR example, with the software you customized that cannot be easily ported to Linux. If you thought a bit before you did the customization, maybe you would have been at a VERY much better strategic situation right now.

9. Higher cost of IT? What bullshit... The only reason the IT that work with Linux and Unix want better pay is because, A. They can either do things more efficient than the Windows people (It has been proved by recent research), or B. They have better things to do than go to work for normal pay. Now, lets not forget to mention that you're exaggerating, not all IT people want really high pay...

10. Windows with Anti-virus is just as secure as Linux? Is that some sort of joke? An anti-spyware application doesn't save me, now you want to tell me that an anti-virus can save me?
And what about the performance loss with all that constant monitoring for files, how about Windows just having a lot more virus producers, any day there is at least 1 new virus, if not more, and it doesn't get fixed immediately. What is considered on Linux a security bug, is not even really concerning me because things are getting fixed the same day, if not the same hour they are discovered.

And a comment to your last comments: This is ignorance, not stupidity. Show them linux, train them linux, and they'll start coming... nothing is set in stone in life...

This is me, saying farewell and good bye (Same thing? Nah).

Anyway, yeah... bye :)

Michael said...

"6. External (liable) support for software
...however, a lot of them do not come with payed 24/7 support."

It's difficult to take anyone seriously that can't even spell paid correctly!

That having been said, once one wades through the multi-layered FUD, the "commercial software" aspect does have some validity, but the reasons for it are rapidly swirling down the drain as WinVista tanks.

Kyle said...

Nice list. One interesting thing to note is that while many companies require "supported" software, many companies never use the support for which they paid. Answers to so many questions are more quickly found by googleing than by calling or emailing the support line.

fglaros said...

Don't you just love it when people find a grammar/spelling error in your writings, gloat about it and then go on to their point feeling reassured that they have established some higher ground than you and as a result what they say is true while you are obviously wrong...

I am looking at you Michael

Pi said...

@ michael - fixed the spelling. Thank you for the heads up. However, that is not a good argument against the post.

It seems to me, michael and merlin, that neither of you have had to deal with IT administration in corporate America. Of course, I might be wrong.
Michael, you really don't have a good argument against my post, so I really have nothing else to say to you.
Merlin, standards are standards, and in the real world, there are more average users than power users, actually, there are more below average users than average users and power users combined.
Ignorance vs stupidity... are you saying that because someone doesn't know the ins and out of computers they are stupid?

IT Salaries... you said it yourself, they ARE in fact more expensive... and they still have to work 40 hours a week, regardless if they are twiddling their thumbs 20 hours a week because they are so damn efficient....unless they are willing to work part time.

The whole commercial software, paid support... I actually agree with you. Unfortunately, company owners don't. I apologize if I did not make it obvious that these points were made from the owners' point of view. Hey, when you become a business owner, and have 50 - 100 employees under you, you can do whatever the hell you want.

Linux learning curve: refer to power user/below-average user comment. Some people take YEARS to learn simple Windows tasks... and now you switch them over to something different? They will quit on the spot.

Oh, and BTW, Microsoft Office IS the best office suite out there. If there ever was a good Microsoft product, that would be it.
Also I am guessing you are not an Office Suite power user from your comment, but as it stands, it is impossible to port all the VBS macros companies have developed through the years onto Open Office unless they take the time (read money) and re-write them all. That alone will stop businesses from switching.
And "friends using windows" argument... don't tell me, tell business owners. However, they own a (probably successful) business, and are much higher up the food chain than you and I are (I'm assuming, I'll retract if you in fact do own a business). Maybe they know something you and I don't.

Peter said...

Good action plan. It is helpful for the Linux community to know what improvements are needed. These things take time however. Linux is getting stronger everyday. It took Microsoft years to grow its business. This post give good direction for improvements to OSS.

TripleII said...

A couple of points

Expensive commercial antivirus give business owners a sense of security

And that is what you get, for management, a sense you are secure, instead of being actually secure. The folks in the IT trenches are still scrambling with any number of 0 day flaws, updates, and in general, user's who merrily download and install malware.

Our customers use Windows, so we HAVE to use Windows

Remember a time when no one ever got fired for purchasing IBM? Many businesses have switched to Open Source and are enjoying a more secure, cheaper, more easily maintained and efficient computing experience.

That is not to say that you don't make valid points on why companies may be basically afraid to try Linux, but times are changing, and most of the perceived reasons are not valid for most.


Elbing Miss said...

I have a small company (in Spain) and we have running Linux and XP. We can't run Vista because our program to make bills doesn't work on it (of course, doesn't run in linux with wine too). Most of small companies in Spain have some program like this and they use windows. We have Linux running too, it's more secure and we love it from 9 years, but our bussiness is about repair computers, so most of that machines are running windows and 100% of our customers use windows in their machines. What a pity for us, but most of people use windows because they don't know anything about computers. We could tell them about Linux and its advantages, but really people wants to have the same as their neighbors. It's stupid, but real. I hope one day will be different and we have a little program for bills in Linux that we could port our db with all documentation. At the moment, Linux will be our workstation, but not our "point of sell terminal"

Excuse my english. Nice blog.

Dale said...

Please check out FastCad; its available for windows and the next release (version 8)will run on OS X and Linux as well. It is the best CAD program available, and affordable.

Tim said...

I agree with most of what you have said. Windows has some advantages on the desktop over Linux, just as Linux has some advantages in areas such as web hosting.
I certainly agree with you where Office is concerned. Merlin failed to actually give any specifics as to why he thinks MS Office is laughable. I'm not saying OpenOffice is bad (it isn't) but some of the groupware stuff in MS Office is excellent and way beyond OpenOffice. I've also had problems writing VBA for OpenOffice although it has to be said this situation is getting much better.
I still use paid for software as I find it tends to me more polished with a better attention to detail.
More importantly I really appreciate seeing some reasoned debates on the issue. Thanks all
Kind regards

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the fact Microsoft uses linux servers for their website what do you think about that?

Who Needs Internet Explorer?!!