The economic crisis is making companies and Public Administration cut all the expenses possible. They buy less pens and paper, reduce the consumption of water and energy or tell their CEO’s to stop flying business class. And, sadly, they say they have to fire employees.
Except the last one, these actions are just a matter of efficiency, of stopping the money leaks that drain the organization’s revenues. That’s why I find surprising how most organizations haven’t seen one spot where they save good money, even though they have it in front of their eyes: software. Companies and Public Administration need hundreds of computers, and they mostly use licensed software both for the operative system (Windows) and the applications (Microsoft’s Office, Adobe Programs, etc.), which at the end of the year means a huge expense.
The reason why organizations stay with Microsoft and licensed software is quite simple: Windows is by far the most popular OS, and that doesn’t only mean that it is what most people use but also the only OS hat most people knows how to use. The direct consequence of this “popularity” is that software developers focus on create applications for Windows just because the market there is bigger, and then we all get into an endless circle:
Windows is more popular –> more software is developed for Windows –> Windows gets more popular.
So basically organizations and people at home don’t get out of Microsoft’s sphere for three reasons: because they don’t need it (everything runs in Windows), because it’s what they understand (they haven’t learned how to work with other platforms) and because it’s what everybody has (and they want to avoid compatibility issues with other people). By the way, this is basically Microsoft strategy and the reason why they have never been truly careful about people using pirate copies of their software: they wanted Windows to be everywhere, even if it had to be for free, to help feed the endless circle, which is a win-win situation for Microsoft because of the money developers have to pay them to access and use Windows’ code.
But math is a very good reason to give free and open-software a try. Considering a very generic work station, and not entering in the deals Microsoft can give to companies, one computer costs 309 € for the operative system (price of Windows7 Professional) and 35o € for the office suite (Microsoft’s Office’s license for companies, which is the version including Access, costs 700€ and works in two computers). That’s more than 650 € per basic work station, just for workers using documents, slideshows, spreadsheets, databases, email and Internet applications; and it doesn’t include security costs (antivirus, firewall, etc.), the costs of server applications and other software or the fact that all these programs have to be updated every few years.
Any organization implementing open-software solutions, such as Linux and LibreOffice, would dramatically cut down these costs, specially in the long term since all the needed updates would also be free (which also means there wouldn’t be any outdated work stations). Moreover, if organizations start using Linux and open source software they would help to break Microsoft’s endless circle in two ways: people would get over their fear to try Linux, since they use it at work, and developers would pay more attention to the open platforms, which would mean faster and deeper development of open-source software. As for the self-developed applications (those that each organization develops specifically for its own needs) the costs would be the same than under Windows but with a bigger potential: each organization could create not only applications but its own Linux distribution, or even one distribution to fit the needs of each department.
I believe specially Public Administration should take into consideration the open-source alternatives. These weeks we have been hearing announces from European and North American Governments about the need to reduce the public debt, meaning cuts in health, education or social expense budgets (but not in military… I guess in case we have to fight the crisis the good old way). Shouldn’t they cut the expense of licensed software first, when there are fully functional alternatives out there? As an example, the Spanish Pirate Party published last Spring that the Spanish Public Administration spends up to 30 million euros in Microsoft Licenses in just 15 months. Couldn’t that money have been used to hire more doctors, or to increase pensions, or to improve public transportation systems?