(This is part of a series of posts on Why Linux?)
Linux, to me as an end user, is cheap. Even taking into account the fact most PCs come with a Windows licence included it’s still cheaper for me to run Linux. I paid Steve minimal amounts for my first set of Debian install CDs. These days I can burn my own netinst CDs and pull the rest over the internet. I legally have access to a tremendous range of excellent software, for nothing. All the apps I need are available without having to shell out more. How is that not awesome? I get free updates, both for bugs and also for major features. I’m not left with the option of paying lots of money for the latest and greatest, or dealing with an unsupported old release with known bugs.
The counter argument from my Windows using friends is often about how they didn’t pay for their Windows updates nor their copy of Office. I’m unimpressed with anyone who tells me Windows is a better option, but is unprepared to pay for it. If you have to illegally obtain it in order for it to compete with Linux then you’re not really comparing on equal terms, are you? Also don’t tell me that Free software takes away jobs from software engineers and then pirate software, eh?
Cost isn’t just about the money though. I’ve put many hours into being involved in Debian. I’ve provided project resources when I was in a position to do so. I’ve contributed to the Linux kernel. Not quite the same as paying for it, but I think does indicate that I’m trying to give back a little too. I also accept that at an organisational level the basic cost of the software licences is often negligible compared to things like hardware, training and support.
I still think cost is a compelling argument for the home user, and for decisions at an organisational level. As mentioned I realise there are issues with training and support, but I don’t believe these costs are any higher than for alternative OSes. Linux also makes it remarkably easy to remotely administer machines, and perform common actions across an entire installed estate, without needing extra bolt ons from 3rd parties.
Cost doesn’t provide sufficient justification for an individual desktop in an organisation that has site licences for an alternative however (and in fact running Linux requires extra work on my part to do the install and maintenance compared to allowing central IT to manage my machine). So that’s not a good enough reason.