Open-source operating system Linux has a higher total cost of ownership than Windows, according to research from analyst firm Yankee Group.
Yankee Group said for the vast majority of businesses, especially those where Windows is pervasive, Linux software is more expensive to run.
The research, based on responses from 1,000 IT administrators and executives across the globe, was paid for by software firm Sunbelt, a provider of implementation tools for Windows. It found that, for large businesses, a significant Linux deployment or total switch from Windows to Linux would be three to four times more expensive and take three times as long to deploy compared to a Windows upgrade.
All of the main Linux distributors, including Novell, Red Hat, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, have begun charging "hefty premiums for must-have items like technical service and support, product warranties and licensing indemnification", the report said.
"Linux is not free - a fact that most corporations are now beginning to realise," said Yankee Group analyst and report author Laura DiDio. And despite its many benefits, Linux is not technically superior to current Windows products, she said.
"Corporate customers report that Linux does indeed provide businesses with excellent performance, reliability, ease of use and security," DiDio said. "Hype notwithstanding, Linux's technical merits, although first-rate, are equivalent but not superior to Unix and Windows Server 2003."
The benefits of Linux are clearer for small organisations, DiDio said, and added that Linux can be used as a negotiating tool, as Newham Council did in its discussions with Microsoft earlier this year.
"There is a clear bifurcation between the high and low ends of the market," she said. "Everyone has a Linux strategy, even if it is just to use Linux as a stone to throw at Microsoft."
Many companies are looking at their operating system strategies in the light of the rise of Linux, but most will stick with Windows for the time being, the report said.
Graham Taylor, director of Open Forum Europe, said companies should use return on investment as their key metric when considering Linux, rather than total cost of ownership. "[The report] flies in the face of everything we have been looking at. The outlook is changing dramatically - Linux on the desktop is going to motor this year," he said.
The Linux versus Windows battle
Over the next two years, enterprises will spend as much securing their Linux systems as they do on Windows systems
Most firms would migrate "a portion" of their Windows servers to Linux for specialised applications
Just 4% of Unix and 11% of Windows users plan to replace existing systems with Linux
Fewer than 5% said they would switch desktops to Linux from Windows
30% said Linux was more reliable; 31% found it more secure; and 29% feared being locked into an all-Microsoft environment
Most large firms will not install Linux as a front-line operating system because it costs between 25% and 50% more in technology support specialists than Windows
Most of those switching to Linux are coming not from Windows but from other flavours of Unix.
Source: Yankee Group