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Software costs: There are no free kittens

Feb 24, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

We weren’t speaking about open source products but about Novell’s offer of 250,000 eDirectory licenses to anyone who asks for them. Mark reminded me that there’s no such thing as a free cat.

I was talking to Mark McClain at Waveset Technologies the other day, discussing what’s new in the area of identity management (McClain’s LightHouse product line is among the industry leaders in most identity categories) when the subject of free software arose. We weren’t speaking about open source products but about Novell’s offer of 250,000 eDirectory licenses to anyone who asks for them. Mark reminded me that there’s no such thing as a free cat.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably faced this issue. Your child comes in the house one day with the big news that Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith has a cat with a brand-new litter of kittens, which they want to GIVE AWAY! “They’re free, mom,” your beaming offspring says. Free, as in two or three trips to the vet, shots and pills, dishes, bowls and litter trays not to mention litter, food and drink. Then there’s wear and tear on the furniture, carpet, curtains and any small mammals, birds, fish or reptiles that are already in residence.

Now I’m not saying that Novell is out to bankrupt you. I’m also not saying that paying a lot for something is better than getting it for free. My point is that you have to look beyond the unit cost into the total cost of ownership, which, although it’s a very well-worn phrase is still applicable to technology-buying decisions.

Here’s just one example (and, again, I’m not picking on Novell on purpose!). You decide that you need a new application that runs on top of a Structured Query Language database. You’re already running NetWare 6, so you could add (for free) the open-source MySQL database. You could also decide to purchase Microsoft’s SQLServer (running on Windows 2000) or Oracle 9i running on Linux (the Linux, at least, is relatively free). Which one is the best deal? I can’t tell you because it’s very dependent on your own circumstances. However, the Novell answer has the lowest initial outlay while the Oracle on Linux is probably the most expensive to purchase in upfront costs. But what will support cost you? What about hardware cost? Do you need a database administrator, and what will that cost? Will the application run on the chosen platform without modification, or will you need to engage a consultant? Make sure you consider everything before you say yes to that kitten.

Tip of the week

Everyone I spoke to had a wonderful time (and learned a lot) at NetPro’s Directory Experts Conference for eDirectory. If you’re involved in Active Directory management or programming, you need to consider the DEC for AD coming up in late April. If you go, and you meet Jenny, just tell her Dave said, “500 degrees.”