What's Linux Gonna Cost You? - InformationWeek
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7/23/2007
05:30 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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What's Linux Gonna Cost You?

If there's one thing about Linux that everyone, even detractors, must admit is a good thing, it's the price tag. Linux is free -- free to download, free to run on as many PCs as you like, free to modify as needed and redistribute under similar conditions. This doesn't mean it's not going to cost you anything, though.

If there's one thing about Linux that everyone, even detractors, must admit is a good thing, it's the price tag. Linux is free -- free to download, free to run on as many PCs as you like, free to modify as needed and redistribute under similar conditions. This doesn't mean it's not going to cost you anything, though.

Every piece of software comes with a certain cost. That cost is not always tangibly measured, though -- it's not always just a dollar value. It also comes in the form of the amount of time, effort, and manpower required to get it working as needed. And this, in turn, is something that comes as a counterpoint to the price tag: The total cost required to make Linux a viable solution in a particular environment.

From what I've seen, that cost varies enormously for individual users -- sometimes so much so that it can be a little deceptive, because those costs are often self-reported. For instance, if I'm the sort of person who likes to tinker (and I am), then I'm likely to absorb a lot more of the cost of setting up and getting used to the learning curve of a Linux system. Since it's the sort of thing I like to do anyway, it's all good.

However, if I'm someone who just wants to get work done now, and I spend hours struggling with a particular distribution to do something that in my mind is trivial (like getting power management to work right), I'm not going to be as forgiving, and I'm more likely to brush off comments about trying another distribution. In my mind, I've already had so much of my time mulcted by Linux, so why wade any deeper into that particular swamp?

My point here isn't really to argue the merits of commercially supported software vs. free software (or even free software for which you can buy optional commercial support, like Canonical's support packages for Ubuntu). It's about perception, and the sheer breadth of perception about whether or not a given thing "works" is telling. If someone else who seems to be the same kind of user or has the same kind of work habits as you switches to Linux and has a bad experience, that doesn't mean you'll have a bad one, too. Or a good one. The only real way to find out is to try it on your own -- and, again, that'll come at a cost.

For most people, that cost is paid in time. But if you do have the time to spare, it doesn't hurt to see for yourself. The hard part with Linux can be figuring out where to start and what to start with. In a future blog entry I'll talk a bit more about different types of users and which distributions they may want to kick off their Linux experiences with.

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