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Munich\’s unexpected migration costs prove nothing so far

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.

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2 thoughts on “Munich\’s unexpected migration costs prove nothing so far”

  1. Dave, you have a good perspective on this. This looks
    like a commentary that I may refer back to for support
    when such discussions come up.

    I dual booted my work laptop with Fedora Core 1 and for a
    few weeks have only been booted to Linux. The only
    exception was when I needed to save a password protected
    Excel spreadsheet. I could read it with Gnumeric, but not
    save it still password protected. Some other things are
    still inconvenient. For example, I can’t seem to get
    smb-based network browsing to be completely functional
    with lan:/ and Konqueror or smb4k. I wind up using
    smbclient like an smb-based ftp client.

    But for the most part I don’t miss Windows, love tabbed
    ssh terminals, scp at my fingertips, the ability to scroll
    a background window without making it foreground, multiple
    desktops, not defragging my hard drive, and so on.

    And (drum roll, please) the number one reason that I’m
    glad to be using Linux at work is…a tie. When I watch
    my colleagues be frustrated as another desktop support
    pushed MS security patch installs on their PC and then
    wants a reboot…and another…and another I just smile.
    This ties with watching them be frustrated as the
    antivirus software kicks in and scans…and scans…and
    scans…slowing performance to a crawl.

    Yeah I patch…automatically. I run yum as a service and
    it updates my PC at night when I’m not using it.

    So yes, the short term cost of change may be higher than
    expected, but there are hidden costs to the status quo,
    and probably higher costs in the long term for not

    Plus there’s that little thing called freedom.


  2. Agreed. Migrations almost never save money in the short-term. The reasons to migrate are often long-term savings, flexibility, freedom, and simply going with a better platform for the future. Questions you have to ask are:

    Will the new platform be cheaper to develop on (less man-hours, license fees)?

    Does the platform have a strong future?

    Do I have freedom with the new platform or am I tied to one or two vendors whims?

    Can I get good support if I need it?

    Is the new platform limiting or freeing?

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