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Microsoft launched its "Get the Facts" campaign by presenting reports that showed its software was cheaper and more functional than open source alternatives.
Separately, consultant Eddie Bleasdale of netproject published a white paper on Beaumont Hospital which showed how an open source model could offer a lower total cost of ownership over a five-year period.
Simon Edwards, research analyst at Butler Group, said that until the arrival of Linux many users did not have a viable alternative to Windows. "This competition is healthy and will improve product quality," he said.
Edwards said the debate would help users by providing more information on the cost breakdown of Windows against open source software. It was important for the industry to engage users in a public debate on the merits of the two approaches. "People need to drive value from their platform," he said.
Bleasdale, who attended the Microsoft launch event, said, "I welcome the Microsoft campaign as it allows a debate to take place between the Microsoft camp and the open source camp." He criticised Microsoft's approach as being "Windows-only" and failing to account for the heterogeneous environments run by most users.
One of the hotly contested areas is desktop productivity, with Openoffice the open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft UK, warned that users would face incompatibilities moving documents between the two packages.
He said, "In Openoffice 1.2, complex [Excel] spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides do not convert well." He also said that users would experience formatting problems when moving from Microsoft Office to Openoffice.
McGrath urged users to consider the additional costs they could incur in a heterogeneous environment. He said, "To connect to Exchange you require a Windows client access licence, which is included in Windows XP Professional and Windows 2003." He said Linux users would have to pay extra for this licence.
Meanwhile, open source advocate netproject has been awarded a research and development grant by the Department of Trade & Industry to develop tools to manage the large-scale deployment of Linux workstations.
The company is working with Beaumont Hospital in Dublin to roll out Linux across 1,000 workstations. In a white paper looking at the potential savings Beaumont Hospital could make by moving to open source, netproject said the one-off savings of open source software over proprietary alternatives were about £4.6m. Over a five-year period, it estimated savings of £8.4m.