'We did a back of the envelope sketch for implementing Open Documents versus Office 12,' Quinn, a Linux and open source advocate, told iTWire at LinuxWorld.
'When you laid it out, we assumed that you had to do about equal training because Office 12 is a new product. We attributed no cost in terms of installing Microsoft Office or Open Office on the desktop. We used a hypothetical number of 50,000 desktops and assumed that we would have to replace 20% of our desktops because they were old.
'We assumed the cost of 50,000 desktops times the cost of Office 12 which we took as the same price as Office 2003. Then we did a labour cost of the time to replace 10,000 desktops, timed at a spread of one to two and half hours. When we added all that up, it came to around $8 million for doing Open Office versus $30 million for doing the new Microsoft product.
'You could argue about my numbers but here's what I would say to you. There's two very compelling pieces in this where you can decide how big that differential is. If you were using Open Office it operates on Windows 95 going forward and it operates on Linux. When you go to Office 12, it doesn't go back that far, so you knew you were going to be forced into some kind of an upgrade. So you have something that you can acquire for nothing and spend some training dollars on, or something that you have to buy. So whatever way you look at it, if it costs me zero acquisition over here and a regular cheque over here, there's going to be a differential. And part of it is that you're going to be forced into a migration of some part of your desktop landscape just because it can't support what is going to be the new offering.'
And what of the contention made by Alan Yates of Microsoft that Open Office is 10 years behind the software company's Office product?
'In our early evaluation, we recognised that there are certain parts of Open Office that are not equal in functionality to Microsoft Office 2003,' said Quinn. 'There are two main areas. One is in the way people create spreadsheets and the other is in some of the very advanced features of Power Point. If you look at the way people use the desktop, that is a very, very small contingent of the entire populace.
'Give Alan and Microsoft their due, but the reality is most of the people don't use all those advanced features so it begs the question as to why I would spend all that money - advanced or not. When you buy the best Mercedes, it probably has features that far surpass those of the general automobile populace but how many people use those or need those in their daily routine. Technological superiority is wonderful but at the end of the day if people aren't using it, then it becomes a great big so what.'
According to Quinn, the quality and reliability of open source software is generally better than the proprietary equivalent.
'If you put something out into the community, then you will have the best and the brightest looking at it. If you're in a proprietary firm, then you may have very great people but you only have so many eyes. So if there's a security problem, then it gets discovered because you have so many people coming at it from so many perspectives.'
Quinn believes the huge cost differential between open source and Microsoft software, the groundswell of open source tools hitting the market and the delay of new Microsoft software releases may combine to create what he calls the perfect storm for open source in 2006.
Quinn, who was initially lambasted by Massachusets software industry in 2003 because of his pioneering open source strategy, says every software player in the industry except Microsoft eventually came around to believing that open source was a good thing.
"There was a lot of fear around open source because folks thought that we were going to decimate the local software industry, but when that didn't happen open source came into the mainstream. People thought that we were going to socialise the software industry. In August 2005 when we put out our Open Documents policy, every corporation was supportive of what we doing with the exception of Microsoft,' says Quinn.
'When you think about the desktop arena, there is ubiquity around Microsoft. They won the marketplace war. Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft but there is a fundamental change going on the industry right now that is going to challenge the safety net around buying Microsoft. That comes around from how people use the desktop. Because folks are migrating to web services; because most of us are content creators, the fact is that we are making this investment in technology the desktop that for the most part doesn't get used and, if it does, it gets woefully under utilised for the investment we make in it.
'I would say to CIOs, CFOs, CEOs, government agency heads and political figures if they are not challenging their technology people in terms of how and what they're investing in the desktop and truly understanding what's going on there, I think there's something wrong. This isn't anything about being an anti-Microsoft conversation. It is about where we are investing the scarce dollars we have and whether this is the best use of your money.
'You need to think and analyse what people are doing with the tools that you're giving them. They're using them dramatically differently today than they did five years ago. If you can fully appreciate what happens on the desktop, it allows you to approach what it is you do for your next generation of investment in a completely different way.
'I would suggest that our desktops are going to get a lot simpler because we're migrating towards web services, which means that what you really need is a substantial browser. Email in my mind continues to be the critical application in many enterprises. What happens after that for the most part is that we are content consumers, so we read but we don't edit or create. When you get things today, most of the time it's not a document attachment; it's either a link to a web page, or the salient information you need is embedded in the email. So it's a very different paradigm.
'If you think about it from that perspective, then the cost differentials become very different. There has been a lot going on in open source development over the last couple of years and this the year that so much is going to change. The tools are going to be there in a way that they haven't been before and the ability to bifurcate and trifurcate what happens on the desktop and unbundle rather than have this bundled approach is going to much more prevalent. It's all coming together a bit like a perfect storm.
'The other thing that helps this is that the Microsoft products have been delayed. The debate is rising to a crescendo and that's why I think this the tipping point.'