MS fumbles anti-Linux PR

A Microsoft-commissioned case study on a New Zealand-based reseller's website touts the example of a South Island company switching from Linux to MS Small Business Server on the grounds of performance. But according to the reseller which implemented the changeover, it's more a case of finding the right technology fit.

Christchurch horticultural products exporter Pacific Wide had been running the Mandrake distribution of Linux as its network operating system for three years, with Microsoft Office 97 on the desktop.

According to the case study, entitled "Pacific Wide favours Microsoft over Linux to deliver a stable platform for future growth", the company found Linux to be unreliable and unstable, causing user frustration and major inefficiencies.

It quotes Pacific Wide general manager Anthony Washington as saying that the company experienced a number of performance issues with Linux, including basic everyday jobs such as printing documents.

"Being a document-centric organisation, business productivity suffered if we experienced high levels of downtime, affecting our ability to service our customers."

It goes on to quote him saying the system lacked remote network access and web hosting capabilities, and that Linux support was an issue.

When Computerworld spoke to Washington he admitted knowing nothing about IT and didn't realise Linux can manage both web hosting and remote access.

Washington says before March 2002 the company had no clear IT strategy and the company's network was largely dependent on the skills of its service provider. Pacific Wide tended to employ small systems integrators which customised its software, resulting in a loss of skills when it chose a new provider.

"I came in at the point when we had decided to change over," Washington told Computerworld, "but there were always a number of issues going on with the network. I was told this by staff and past managers."

He says he thought a large part of the trouble was the service provider, which he didn't want to name, rather than Linux itself.

"We looked at our IT and felt we had grown enough to be dealing with more professional people."

Christchurch-based Datasouth stepped in as its new IT supplier and chose to deploy Microsoft Small Business Server 2000 and standardise desktops on Microsoft Office XP. Hardware was also upgraded with new HP servers, PCs and laptops.

Washington says he took part in the case study because he wanted to support Datasouth.

"It has done everything well. We haven't had any problems like we did with Linux and the last guy. Whether it's down to the people we now use or it's a Linux or Microsoft thing, I don't know. At least our computers aren't crashing now."

Datasouth business manager Aarron Spinley says his company has customers using Linux for firewalls but in the case of Pacific Wide, which has 100 employees but only 10 on the network, he thought MS Small Business Server was a better fit.

He says Pacific Wide had had SBS in the past so it wasn't expensive to get an upgrade licence.

He acknowledges that Linux can handle web hosting and remote access even though the prepared case study gives the impression that it can't. He believes, however, that the degree of configuration a small business would have to do to achieve those functions in Linux makes it unsuitable for small sites.

"There's nothing wrong with Linux and I wouldn't want to be perceived as anti-Linux, but it wasn't a fit for their size. In terms of getting an efficient mail server and remote user authentication, that all has to be configured and maintained."

He says given the size of the client, these functions would have been costly to add and maintain on a Linux system because of the services required.

Christchurch-based Linux systems integrator David Lane disagrees. He says remote access is "trivial" to set up and he has implemented it for many clients.

The case study also quotes Washington saying that having a standardised Microsoft platform has lowered the company's total cost of ownership "and helped us become smarter about our licensing and asset management. Furthermore, because we will now upgrade our IT systems every three years, we expect a quicker return on investment."

Washington told Computerworld he couldn't remember saying this. However, he says the company is now leasing both hardware and software whereas in the past it has bought them outright. Overall this will probably help the company stay up to date and over time will cost less, he says.

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