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Joel on Software

16

by Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The city of Munich is replacing Windows with Linux on 14,000 desktop computers. For a secretary who has to do email and type simple documents, that will probably be fine.

Here's my question. What about all the people who need to run software that doesn't run on Linux? The article said Munich uses 175 custom Windows applications, all of which would need to be ported. And what about major commercial applications for which there's no equivalent? I guarantee you that somewhere out of those 14,000 desktops there's someone using Quark to publish an important report. Even if there were an equivalent for Linux, which there isn't, it wouldn't be the format that the printers are used to receiving. There are probably a lot of people with custom Access databases. How do they access their data?

I suspect what will really happen is that they'll roll out Linux everywhere, and then every mid-level bureaucrat will realize they can't do their job because some application they need just doesn't run on Linux, and they'll buy Windows XP at full retail price, burying the costs in expense reports or petty cash or somewhere else. And eventually Munich will buy so much Microsoft software at retail price, without the benefit of a negotiated discount, that Microsoft will make more money and Munich will start to realize that they're paying twice for software: once for the politically correct shelfware ($2550 per desktop for Linux, so it sort of sounds unbelievable) and once for the software they need to get their jobs done.

Either that or they'll simply be unable to do their jobs, and, like bureaucrats everywhere, they won't tell anyone, while the municipality quietly falls apart.


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I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, insanely simple project management, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracker designed to help great teams develop brilliant software, and Kiln, which simplifies source control. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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