Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

Fellowship Church Excommunicates Microsoft Server Solution

Microsoft UberBlogger Robert Scoble opines in a post entitled ‘A church switches to open source and teaches us a lesson’:

The Fellowship Church, the fifth-largest church in the USA, recently switched its Web sites from Microsoft technology to Linux, PHP, PostgreSQL, and Apache …

Why am I linking to something negative to Microsoft? Well, for one, to challenge my coworkers. I’m hearing more and more of these kinds of switches and Brian Bailey’s reasons match what I’m hearing from other developers. We need to make sure our products and services solve the business issues that are out there today, not the ones that existed in 1995.

Once again, the mighty Scobleizer offers us some mighty fine insights – and he’s entirely correct to point out that this isn’t so much an issue of Microsoft vs. Linux, but rather that the church’s business model and practice has changed over the past 10 years …

… and though I make my living in the .NET Framework, I firmly believe there are more effective solutions to be found on the Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) platform than on Microsoft’s.

It’s the Economy Stupid

Sure, some of this has to do with licensing costs, no doubt of it. Someone donates an old laptop to your church sans distribution CDs leaving you one of two choices: pay Microsoft to license the apps on the machine or wipe it clean and install Knoppix to the hard drive as it comes already equipped with a ‘Windows-enough-like‘ interface and tools such as OpenOffice and Audacity.

Likewise, some churches don’t need to buy two copies of Microsoft Office, two copies of Windows and one copy of Project to qualify for the Microsoft Charity Open License. Those that do qualify can’t afford the ever-increasing costs in hardware to support the variety of overkill features that bloat products such as Word and Outlook – nor to support complex data products such as their SQL Server.

Brian Bailey goes into even greater detail over on his blog, Leave It Behind, where he enumerates 10 other cost-related reasons to explain ‘Why the Switch?‘ Here are just four to tease you into reading Brian’s entire post:

  • Developers
  • Complexity and speed of development
  • Browsers
  • The new guy

Porpoise Driven Paradigm Shift

Equal to the costs issues is the shift in how churches operate in an age of ever increasing and accessible technology. That is, to handle the growing complexity and volume of office operations endured by local churches and charities, jobs once handled by the staff are now being outsourced to members.

Moreover, as more churches find the need to jump through the flaming hoops of Warren-ology they also find a need to move towards a lay-driven ministry – even though most lay members never set foot into the church office.

Together, the need to outsource office work and to support off-site lay-workers has given rise to the need for many churches to switch to web-native solutions that use the Internet the same way many large corporations use an Intranet. More often than not the best place to find affordable solutions isn’t at Microsoft but at places such as SourceForge and FreshMeat.

Food for Thought

I already mentioned burninating a Knoppix CD and installing it onto the hard drive, but here are a few other bones (of contention) to gnaw on.

Sharepoint is a powerful portal product – but quite frankly, I can get pretty much the same functionality I would need for a mid-sized church or charity with Drupal, Mambo or XOOPs – and get them on a Linux/Apache server that costs me $9.95/month to rent.

Likewise, if all I want is a relatively simple content management system for my church, then why not employ a blogging application such as MovableType or ExpressionEngine? I can even extend the RSS templates of my blogs to include the RDF events module so I can import data into any number of open source calender options and/or into my MySQL database for a lot less programming than it would take to shove an event extended RSS feed into Outlook.

And nothing from Microsoft I know of handles lay-driven, off-site managed membership like InfoCentral – especially when I can modify both it and most of the other ‘open sores’ solutions I’ve mentioned on my Windows-based PC first using LAMP friendly development tools such as Sokkit.

Not So Evil Intent

My point is not to kvetch about ‘Microsoft Purchasing Evil From Satan‘ nor to come across like some Linux-loving /. geek/freak Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader … but rather to point out that Microsoft’s current crop of solutions just don’t feed the changing business model of today’s churches and charities.

Pretty much the same point Scoble made in his post, and why I’m glad new blog4Godr’ Bob Campbell turned me on to it. So what are your thoughts?


  1. Yeah, this is one of the major reasons I chose a LAMP system when I wa hired. I already had a background in both ASP.Net and PHP, but the cost of a W32 system is generally much greater than that of a Redhat variant with Apache, PHP5, and MySQL. Our site is > 2 years old now and I’m in the beginning stages of building version 2, but I’m still programming for a similar setup, just with some minor tweaks for better XML handling and database speed.

  2. Makes me want to start working on my church’s site again! I did the church site for quite a while and a couple years ago, they ‘outsourced’ me so they could join an associational network/partnership thing. Guess I’m still a little hurt by that. Hmm, thought I was over it….

    And I _know_ we could save our church money by using more quality open source apps. The problem is still training: finding time to go sit by the secretary and show her what things are different and how to do ‘this’ or ‘that’ in OOo as opposed to Office.

    A while back we upgraded her PC and instead of a zip drive, she had a CD burner. Previously, she had done all the backups to the zip drive. I sat down and we walked through how to burn a CD several times and tried to answer all her questions. She doesn’t do the backups anymore…never got the hang of the cd burner. I suppose I could have made a ‘cheat sheet’ or better documentation or….I dunno. (sorry….didn’t mean to get that off topic…)

    Nonetheless, thanks for the great post and link!

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  4. Hi
    Of course there is also that MS do use dodgy business practices, etc…
    This is one of the reasons why our church will soon be going Linux quite apart from the price. For us it is not much of a difference from asking whether we use Nestle or MacDonalds. I know that might be taking it off the point but I reckon there are a lot of reasons why churches should avoid MS.
    Now I have to declare that I am a Mac user and therefore people might just point the finger and say, “Aren’t they a multi-national with dodgy practices?” To be honest I don’t know, I haven’t found anything.
    Hey to JM – don’t sweat too much. Email me I could always do with a lot of help!
    Thanks for the article.

  5. While I do a lot of open-source and I am not a MS fan. MS license are NOT very inexpesnive if your a 503c org. Its takes a few hoops and an inital investment to start, but $25-50 for any MS product (windows and apps) isnt that bad.