I saw an article in the Toronto Star in which Steve Ballmer was, um, well, talking gleefully about the city of Munich’s highly publicized and controversial migration to Linux, server to desktop, costing more money than expected.

So I suppose Mr. Ballmer is prepared to reimburse one of my clients for its unexpected expenses in migrating from VMS to Windows then, eh?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.I wouldn’t call myself a migration specialist, per se, but it seems that during my career, just as often as not I’ve been involved in projects that are migrations to something or other, and more often than not, they’ve been migrations to Windows. I helped one of the first OS/2 networks outside of IBM itself migrate to Windows NT. I helped lots of smaller clients migrate from various versions of Mac OS to Windows NT. I’ve done a couple of small projects that migrated something Windows- or VMS-based to Linux. Last year I helped a client migrate from VMS to Windows 2003. Right now I’m working on a project that migrates another client from VMS to Windows 2000/2003.

I’m not trying to prove that I’m a migration expert, but I do think I’ve learned a few things along the way. And one of the first things I learned is that if you’re trying to migrate in order to save money right away, you’re migrating for the wrong reason and your project is probably going to fail very quickly. It’s very hard for a migration to save you that much money that quickly, and if it does, then that means its predecessor was so broken that somebody ought to be fired for not replacing it five years earlier.

The other thing I’ve learned is that a migration always always has unexpected costs, for a very simple reason. It’s impossible to know everything that’s going on on your network. I don’t know everything that’s going on on my home network, and most of the time, I’m the only one using it.

You might say I’m scatterbrained. I say you might be right. But let me give you an example from a network other than mine. In my first job, they decommissioned DOS-based WordPerfect years before I was born started working there. But since the system didn’t prevent people from installing software, people just smuggled in their copies of WordPerfect from home, installed it, and went right on using it, creating new data. Then I came along to migrate them to Windows NT, and they planned the same charade all over again. Only this time, they weren’t able to install their copy of WordPerfect. When told it was illegal to install and we weren’t going to do it, they said they needed that data in order to do their job.

That, my friend, is an unexpected expense.

The city of Munich undoubtedly has data in obsolete formats, being used every day by people, without anyone else knowing about it. I have a client still running something they rely on every day in dBASE II. Yes, TWO! Yes, when the account manager told me that, I made a joke about CP/M. For those of you who haven’t been around that long, dBASE II was obsoleted more than 20 years ago, although some people continued to use it after it was replaced by dBASE III. Some longer than others, it seems…

In this line of work, you find weird stuff. I know weird stuff is attracted to me, but I know I’m not the only one who finds this.

And weird stuff like that, my friend, can sometimes be an unexpected major expense.

The unexpected expenses my current client paid in its current migration paid for me to have a box full of my dad’s old Lionel trains fixed up better than new, and then to buy a bunch of new stuff. Trust me, it wasn’t cheap. And trust me, only a percentage of what my employer got trickled down to me.

I’m sure the city of Munich went into this knowing some or all of this. I’m also sure this wasn’t about money, even though Microsoft is gloating about money now.

What Steve Ballmer wants everyone to forget is that Microsoft came in with the lowest bid. Maybe not initially, but in the end they did. And Munich went with a Linux-based solution anyway.

Why? I’ll tell you why. New Microsoft Office releases every two years. New versions of operating systems every three to four years. New bloatware service packs that guarantee you’ll have to replace your hardware every three years, released every year. Annual antivirus subscription rates. Lost productivity when a virus slips through the cracks anyway. Lost productivity when spyware breaks some required business app.

MCSEs work cheap, and the software is inexpensive at first. But you get nickled and dimed to death.

Linux is more costly than expected this year. But the next four years will be less expensive than anticipated.

And Munich may be betting on that.