I’ve been wondering for quite some time now why a new startup, on a greenfield project, or even a personal site, would choose to use .NET for web development?
Firstly, this is not a Microsoft bashing article – I’m simply trying to understand the thought behind such a choice. While researching this I noticed another recent article (titled: When Windows beat Linux: a cautionary tale) on something similar, so I will use some of the information from this article.
For those than can’t be bothered to read the article I linked to (as many people on a certain social network site decided to do before apparently casting their vote) I will summarise. The article looks at a case study by a German airline company who was restructuring the IT systems of a bankrupt airline which they had acquired. In this process they were moving from a Linux based “scripting” solution to a Windows based .NET stack.
To aid the discussion let’s say that I’m starting a new mISV (micro Independent Software Vendor – this seems to be the buzz word for startup). What will I be producing? I don’t know, let’s say an online bakery because I LOVE cakes so much. Now suppose that we choose to do this using Python and Django on a Linux dedicated server.
So let’s assume that we are going to be a rip roaring success and that every business close to us will be looking to buy our cakes to reward their industrious employees, i.e. the application should scale reasonably well.
A quick look at the case study seems to imply that for every Windows based server needed, we require 2.5 times the computing power for equivalent performance in the Linux based system:
4 Windows Server IIS 6.0-based computers replacing the 10 computers that had hosted the former Linux version
A quick check on Google reveals that a Windows dedicated server will cost around £120 (~$170) more per year than a Linux server. But I need 2.5 times as many Linux servers as I do Windows servers (assuming my application is going to be maxing out the Windows server). Therefore if a Linux server costs me £600 (~£840) a year, this means that I’m £780 better off with the Windows server as my choice. Hold on though, because, let’s face it, the conclusions drawn about the number of servers required for each solution in the case study are pure bullshit! Right? The case study thinks it’s fair to say that 4 brand new top of the range servers are equivalent to 4 Pentium P3s from heaven knows when. Common sense here states that I would get at least as much performance out of my Linux server as I would the Windows one. Hence I will be saving £120 a year, not gaining £780 as the case study would like you to believe. Now on to the software.
The case study states that:
The Web front-end to the e-commerce solution was rewritten using Microsoft C# technology, introducing object-oriented programming to what had formerly been a script-based solution and enabling the solution to be updated and expanded more easily in response to business requirements…The Web server portion of the solution took three months and $120,000 to develop; had SWISS used Java, Heintel estimates, the solution would have taken 50 percent more time and money.
How the hell did Heintel arrive at that estimate? Christ, every bank in the world would be scrambling to rewrite their enterprise Java apps at that rate. Let’s face it, their estimate was utter nonsense – my Mum could have came up with a better estimate and she still hasn’t figured out how to use that wee-thing-that-you-move-with-your-hand-to-make-the-wee-arrow-thing-on-the-screen-move! Moving on, I didn’t realise that you couldn’t write object-oriented programming on a Linux environment, news to me! I mean it’s not like you could write the exact same object-oriented based solution in a language of your choice, whether it be Python, Java, Ruby or PHP (or even C# using Mono). Therefore instead of saving me money on software it’s going to cost me. Why?
First, I’m going to have to purchase SQL Server, I can’t imagine it’s cheap, say around £800. Not only that, I’m going to have to pay for upgrades that I might need in the future, not to mention more SQL Server licences for any additional db servers should I need them. The Microsoft stack is certainly not saving me any money here.
Now on to the IDE. For the Linux based system I could use NetBeans or Eclipse, which are free. For the Windows based system I could use Visual Studio Express Edition. However, I can’t imagine the Express Editions are good for building large web applications, and I haven’t seen too many Microsoft shops using these editions – am I wrong? Presuming we can’t use the Express Editions, I need to pay for the full version of Visual Studio, which tots in at around £600 per developer. However, the Linux based approach is costing me NOTHING for each additional developer that I add.
Another facet of .NET development I have noticed is that you tend to have to pay for nice developer tools that are otherwise free on non-Microsoft based stacks – Reshaper being the example that springs to mind. Hence you have to factor in the cost of such 3rd party libraries.
All in all it appears that the Windows based system is going to cost me waaaaay more to get started than the Linux equivalent. Costs may not seem that high to some people, but when you have limited financies to start your own mISV, any costs, however small, are something you can do without, more so in the current economic climate.
One thing I have so far failed to take account of is the cost of learning new technology. If you are a veteran C# developer then taking the Linux route would mean learning to use new tools and new languages. However, any developer worth their weight in salt is keen to improve their knowledge and would quickly be able to cope. Most smart developers see it as FUN to learn something new.
What I would like to mention is Microsofts BizSpark. This came to my attention after listening to the Startup Success Podcast of which I have become an avid listener. If memory serves me correctly it drastically reduces the cost of Microsoft development tools for mISVs – sorry I can’t remember the exact price but it’s low (update: please see the comments below for some more info on this). This kind of incentive from Microsoft is a great idea, and something I may look at closely, alongside the Linux based options, in my own mISV ventures I will soon be embarking on.
To sum up: with the exception of the BizSpark incentive, if this truly delivers what it appears to, I just can’t see any reason to choose the .NET stack over a free Linux based solution. Can you?