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Vista vs. Ubuntu and the value proposition of a work in progress

Ubuntu vs. Vista and the cost of waiting on a work in progressLast Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer created a virtual firestorm when he said the following about the much maligned Vista operating system:

Windows Vista: A work in progress. [Laughter, applause.] A very important piece of work, and I think we did a lot of things right, and I think we have a lot of things we need to learn from. Certainly, you never want to let five years go between releases. Can we just sort of kiss that stone and move on? – Todd Bishop’s Microsoft Blog, SeattlePI.com

While I’m glad to see Mr. Ballmer’s frankness regarding the ongoing issues with their most recent operating system offering, on the other hand I need to ask the simple question any and all individuals involved in supporting a church or charity’s IT operations needs to ask:

If my office, contact management, presentation, web administration, and other applications are all web-based, then what is the value proposition of sticking it out with Microsoft’s expensive work in progress, versus a more cost effective work in progress such as Ubuntu? – Dean Peters, Heal Your Church Website

In other words, did Steve Ballmer accidentally commit an act of software seppuku through this self-inflicted F.U.D.? Or is this a CEO’s way of cutting Vista losses so more development resources can be relegated to Microsoft’s Singularity efforts?

I can’t tell. Meaning, I am in no more of a position of visibility to clearly see if that’s what’s actually happening here than Microsoft Vice President Chris Capossela appears to have of Microsoft Work’s competition from Google Apps.

What I can tell for now is that:
Cornucopia of online office suite logos

  • Ubuntu, also a work in progress, offers a platform that won’t require expensive hardware and software upgrades in the short to mid-term;
  • Online office suites such as Zoho and Google Apps allow me to work collaboratively and concurrently across diverse locations and computer platforms; and
  • Microsoft continues to move the goal posts, perpetually engaging in long-standing practice to significantly change applications, operating systems and programming languages.

Such ‘fog of war‘ is never a good thing when making potentially expensive operational decisions. And if good stewardship means making decisions that won’t cost my church or charity in terms of money, man hours, and madness, then do heavy investments in client-based applications for either Ubuntu or Vista make sense?

All the more so when one considers that the majority of the work is occurring not just in a single office, but also in the homes and office desktops of the various laypersons and volunteers whom shoulder the brunt of the workload and expense?

What about you and your organization? Can you afford to feed dollars and hours into a work in progress that will likely require upgrading not only hardware, but a number of the residing desktop applications … or is it time to consider moving off the desktop and into the web space?

This one has been buggin’ me all weekend, so comments and opinions please …

… meanwhile, some additional links on the Ubuntu vs. Microsoft Vista topic:


  1. I’ve seen this “abandon the Desktop OS dependency for the Web OS/applications dependency” argument before. In general, I see the argument and like the idea of moving away from the dependency upon such expensive options that Microsoft offers. The hurdles I can’t quite jump yet in moving to an all on-line workspace are:

    * Risk of losing the Internet connection – because of a down ISP, down server on the service’s side, or flying in a plane – and suddenly I have zero access to my data.
    * Lack of control over the workspace – with desktop apps, I can help configure the app to work best for the office’s needs just by showing and hiding the right toolbars. Once that’s done, I know exactly what the are seeing day-in and day-out. Wereas with web apps, those service providers are (for better and for worse) updating their web app very regularly. This means some small amount of retraining the office staff, etc., when the change affects their workflow.
    * Lack of persistence – this is somewhat of an extension of both of the above two points. Once the office has purchased MS Office 2003, I know it’s pretty-much going to work the same for the next umpteen years. I don’t have to worry about company X buying-out company Y which develops and hosts this online app I’m dependent upon and then company X shuts it down because it duplicates a service company X already has.

    All that said, I’m eagerly hoping someone out there can help move me over these hurdles, as that’s the direction I’d like to go, but I lack the ammunition to combat these issues in the minds of the staff. I know with Google (and others) /slowly/ adding off-line capabilities to their apps, that’s helping address some of the issues, but not all apps are “enhanced” in this way yet.

  2. I’m not super-keen on the web apps for much the same reasons that Jason has just stated.

    Ubuntu, though… so attractive, as are the open-source office applications like Open Office. Difficulties, though, are in the learning and compatibility curves. There aren’t a lot of (any?) church-specific applications (for instance, contact/membership managers) for *nix. And yes, you can use WINE to run Windows apps in Ubuntu, but then you’re back to the learning curve.

    I’m planning on sticking with Win XP for as long as I can. And let’s face it: those volunteers doing work at home most likely have Win XP on their PCs already. If (when) it comes down to VISTA or nothin’, well, then the pain of moving to Ubuntu starts to look worth it.

  3. I’m a bit proponent of the use of Linux and/or FOSS software in churches. A lot of people talk a lot about the “learning curve” of moving from Windows to Linux and MS Office to OpenOffice, and yet I suspect that they would still buy the latest version of Office with Vista, which is a lot further away from Office XP than OpenOffice is….

    Additionally, no-one in our church office seemed to blink an eye when we moved from Lotus WordPro to MS Office a few years ago. Either the “learning curve” is a convenient excuse, or we’ve created a culture in the workplace that ties people into a single set of applications with no chance of learning and developing. I hope the former; I fear the latter. Both can be resolved.

    As for church management software, there are a couple of projects out there – from memory they are mostly designed as web-based applications, and thus cross-platform. A brief search for “linux church management software” brought up enough hits to keep you busy for a lazy afternoon ;)

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