Cost of ownership and PC upgrade

As Linux has started nipping at the heels of Windows in recent years, Microsoft has admirably launched an ongoing effort to quantify the total cost of ownership of its offerings vs. alternatives that are mostly on the server front and mostly the aforementioned Linux rather than, say, Apple OS X or Sun Solaris.

The conclusion in these and similar studies is that the capital costs pale in comparison with the time costs of people trying to use the system. In other words, the cost of the software licensing for the operating system and the associated applications that need to be layered on to the base operating system is less than the cost of employees’ time consumed in managing or working with the system.

It is difficult to argue with this approach, as human involvement is an essential element of almost any IT endeavor. Depending on the circumstances, though, one can always take issue with the per-hour costs used or the raw amount of time that is claimed to be expended to perform a given task. Ultimately, analyzing costs using this method is what leads Microsoft to conclude that a free system (such as Linux) costs more than the Microsoft alternative.

While the corporate world still remains married to Windows at the desktop, Linux vendors are making efforts to start cracking this market. The vendors have acknowledged that working with Linux distributions generally requires more “under the hood” type of knowledge than most corporate users care to deal with and are working to evolve the “hobbyist” look and feel to a more corporate one.

And, of course, there is Apple. While still insignificant in numbers — and hobbled with Entourage, an inferior version of Outlook — the Macintosh works for some corporate users like me. The Mac raises issues of awareness concerning TCO implications of desktop upgrades that neither Microsoft nor its Linux competitors have addressed.

Over the years, I have migrated from one Windows-based machine to a newer one probably a dozen times. Every time I have approached it with equal measures of excitement and angst, as the new machine was always counterbalanced by the effort that I knew I would have to put into making it behave like my current one.

I would plan to spend several days reinstalling my key applications and resynching my Outlook files. After that, I would typically carry both machines for about two weeks because, without fail, I would have forgotten to put something on my list to reinstall.

What I went through was just standard fare but chewed up a significant chunk of my time. And this happens everywhere all the time. I thought it was just a fact of life. (It isn’t.)

Thus when I decided to upgrade from my first Mac to a new one, I started making my reinstall list and copying all of my install packages in a folder I planned to burn to a DVD. But none of this was necessary.

When the Mac booted for the first time, it asked if I had an existing Mac. It prompted me to connect a FireWire cable and restart that machine. Several clicks later my new machine had everything I wanted from my old machine. I didn’t have to reinstall any applications or reenter any licence keys — or even reenter my Wired Equivalent Privacy key or VPN parameters. Done. All that the Macs needed was a little quiet time together to communicate.

Why Microsoft has never cared to do this for its desktop users is beyond me. Including the people costs of PC upgrades is worthy of note and should factor into future desktop decisions.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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