THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
is cheaper not really cheaper? That depends on what the definition of the word "cheap"
One clue as to what "cheaper" means is to remember that in any calculation
of Return On Investment (ROI), the time factor cannot be ignored. What good would
it be to report that the ROI of an investment is 250%, but it will take 75 years
to achieve that rate of return? Such an investment might sound wonderful if the
number 250 is emphasized, but ignoring the 75 is foolhardy. You can get a better
annualized rate of return by buying bonds!
It is vital to any technology cost comparison to calculate all returns on an annualized
basis, so that you will not be doing an apples-to-oranges comparison. Buying a piece
of software at 50% discount from list price is not necessarily a bargain. What happens
if it takes five years to recoup the investment, but the vendor cancels support
after three years? Then you might feel compelled to buy the next version before
the five-year break-even point has been achieved. Not very smart, is it?
You might want to get the vendor to bring the price down further, but why bother?
Do you really want to spend money just to break even? Once again, it is simply foolish
to buy software, use it for a couple of years, and then throw it out when the vendor
dictates that the next version must be purchased (or else an add-on support contract
must be signed, after the ROI calculations have been filed away and the extra cost
is thus ignored). Any software purchase that has a break-even period of more than
a couple of years is essentially throwing the company's money out the back door
by the shovel-full.
In order to make a positive impact on company profits through implementing a software
package, the product lifecycle must significantly exceed the break-even period.
That means that the smart purchaser will know the break-even period and will negotiate
a firm commitment that vendor support and free upgrades will continue throughout
that period, as well as a few years beyond it. Otherwise, you might be better off
telling the boss to just invest in some bonds.
Now comes the hard part. What if that vendor is Microsoft, and that product is Windoze?
As far as I know, nobody has provided a solid, realistic analysis to prove a net
positive ROI over the lifecycle of a Windoze version. Sure, some slick consultant
might say, "Buy this new version of Windoze, and it will save you 20% compared
to the previous version of Windoze." But that is a false comparison. What if
that previous version had a negative ROI? Without knowing what your baseline or
benchmark of comparison is, how do you know that you're not simply buying another
product with a slightly-less-negative ROI? And if that is what is actually being
sold, then anyone who buys it is just throwing away a little less money than last
As one example of how subtle this whole process is, Microsoft recently commissioned
a survey that claimed that Windoze is cheaper than Linux over a five-year period.
Research group IDC compared about 100 companies and claimed that, for various tasks
and applications, it was cheaper to use Windoze2000 since supposedly the support
cost was so much lower than Linux, that after five years the zero-entry-cost advantage
of Linux disappeared. But there is a hidden assumption involved, isn't there? Doesn't
that comparison presuppose that Microsoft will continue to support and sell Windoze2000
for five more years -- just to get you past the break-even point relative to Linux?
And that five-year window must be counted from when your company actually implements
the new regime -- not just when Microsoft begins selling it.
I would like to see a comparison that showed three, five, and ten years' breakpoints
comparing Windoze2000 to OS/2. But that will never happen. OS/2 eCS,
for example, will not force a new licensing regime on your company every two or
three years, whereas Microsoft has announced plans to discontinue Windoze2000 availability
on March 31, 2004. (System builders can get it for one additional year.) Now why
in the world would Microsoft release a comparison touting a five-year break-even
period, for a product with only 11 months left before termination? Do they think
we can't count to five?
Apparently some people can count. Microsoft's own software
lifecyle page shows that so many complaints were received that Microsoft had
to extend their support cycle to seven years for most products. But don't think
that there won't be heavy pressure to change more often than that. "Support,"
like "cheap," can mean almost anything that a slick salesperson wants
it to mean.
Most recent revision: April 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.