VSJ – May 2007 – Sounding Board

Robin Jones wonders about our sometimes-contradictory attitudes to prices and sources.

The natives are restless again. The jungle drums of the technical press are rumbling darkly about the exorbitant cost of Vista upgrades, especially when compared to the equivalent charges in the US.

But there’s another prevalent view, which can be stated as, “If you’re not paying through the nose for it, it can’t be any good.” During the recent contaminated supermarket petrol debacle, the press wheeled out numerous motor vehicle engineers to tell us, with straight faces, that we’d be safer buying our fuel from the ‘Majors’ because they charge us more. Unfortunately, we weren’t told where they live. I wanted to sell them £300 televisions at £900 a throw, because, obviously, they’ll then be 3 times better.

There seems to be something irrationally comforting about paying out a lot of money. Skinflints like me have never understood this. As Sir John Harvey Jones used to say, you can’t control what your customers pay you, only what you pay your suppliers. So the way to a healthy margin is to control your costs. On which basis, the capital cost of employing Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird et al is, essentially, zero. There are, of course, arguments about the TCO – retraining, management and so on. But if you’re changing operating system anyway, there’s some retraining cost, so now would be a good time to consider all the options. And Linux is getting easier to manage all the time – witness the imminent extension of Linspire’s “Click ’n Run” technology to a range of common Linux distributions.

“Ah yes”, I hear you ask, “but what about all my .NET applications, to say nothing of my VBA macros?” That’s a fair question. I’ve got another one. What other industry would willingly commit to a single supplier for its primary raw material, however reliable and cost-effective that supplier might be?

[Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.]

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