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Jeremy Chone

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Is Microsoft as Free as Open Source?

For Microsoft shops, the price to move out of the Microsoft stack might be very expensive and discouraging

Jon Davis posted an interesting article discussing whether the Microsoft stack is really more expensive than open source alternatives.

Jon has a point; Microsoft’s restricted (i.e., Express) editions are as free as the open source alternatives. This is undeniably true, since the purpose of many software vendor’s “Express” edition is to compete against open source on price. However, the difference is that with open source you get the full-powered editions. For example, Linux (e.g., CentOs), Xen (for virtualization), PostgreSQL/MySQL, Apache, Java, Tomcat, AspectJ, Lucene, Hibernate, and Eclipse are all robust, full-featured, and powerful technologies available for free to developers. The variety and the quality of product available from the open source community are just astonishing.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s “Express” editions are just limited editions that are understerdanbly designed to lure the users to the full ones. Therefore, in the end, developers should not be duped, if they are using a Microsoft product, they will pay Microsoft.

Furthermore, the biggest benefit of using open source technology is not related to the price. Open source tools are built with the single agenda of making the technology increasingly better for the developer. Technologies produced by software companies have other driving forces, such as business agendas and internal politics. Having worked for big software companies, I can testify that there are many political distractions during the conception and evolution of any product, and often obvious features or integrations do not get done or get delayed because of internal politics. The “from developers for developers” open source model creates a very effective environment in which to produce high-quality technologies for developers.

Nevertheless, for Microsoft shops, the price to move out of the Microsoft stack might be very expensive and discouraging. In my youth, I was an MSDN subscriber (even a proud MCP holder), and I found it emotionally hard to switch. (Kudos to Microsoft for its great developer marketing!) However, for any developer or IT organization that has not invested too heavily in the Microsoft stack or that has already invested in both, I would definitely recommend investing more in the open source stack as it will continue to provide robust, advanced, and full-featured technologies to which you can add even enterprise support (e.g., RedHat). In most cases, these technologies will not have fancy marketing packages and nice dialog boxes, but it is the users who need the nice dialog boxes, not the developers.

Lastly, I find that Linux/Unix is more appropriate for servers than Windows, and once you know how to manage Linux, it is hard to go back to the Windows way of doing things. However, most people do not like change, even though we say we do, so our arguments will always be tainted by our own experience.

Note: This is by no mean a rant against Microsoft or proprietary software in general. I actually have great respect for Microsoft as a software company. I am a dedicated Microsoft Windows and Office user (even if I like to use Google Docs for some of my work) and cannot wait to update my laptop to Windows 7 and the next upgrade of Office and Visio. I like to describe myself as a pragmatically open user who favors open solutions but does not hesitate to use proprietary ones when the open alternatives do not satisfy my needs (i.e., Adobe Photoshop). I use Windows for my PC, Linux for servers, and Android for mobile.

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Jeremy Chone is chief technology officer (CTO) and vice president of development and operations at iJuris, an innovative startup offering a rich Web application for lawyer collaboration and document assembly. In his role as CTO and vice president of development and operations, Jeremy is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategic direction for the iJuris service and technology as well as managing the service architecture, development, and operations.

Chone has more than 10 years of technical and business experience in major software companies such as Netscape, Oracle and Adobe where he has successfully aligned technology visions with business opportunities that deliver tangible results. In addition to a combination of technical and business acumen, Jeremy also possesses an in-depth knowledge of Rich Internet Application technologies, as well as holding many patents in the mobile and enterprise collaboration areas.

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