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Some Proprietary Platform Issues

Android vs iPad

I’m currently in discussions with a client about a potential future project which involves a tablet computer talking to some electronic equipment. The options are an Android tablet and an iPad. One advantage of Android is that it runs on devices of all shapes and sizes, so we can choose a device that fits the need rather than designing everything around the iPad.

But the real problem with iPad is Apple. To run an app on an iPad you need to submit it to Apple, hopefully get it accepted into the App Market, then install it. This process causes some delay, a minor fee, and has the potential to derail the project if Apple doesn’t accept the app on the first try. With Android there is no need to even deal with Google, the app can be installed directly without the Google Play store.

I may end up working with an iPad (which admittedly is really nice hardware), but it seems most likely that the project in question will run on Android only.

Windows vs Linux and Apple OS/X

One of my clients recently paid a web development company to redevelop his web site. I turned out that the web developers in question only knew how to develop for Windows and my client didn’t discover this until too late. Now a site that’s currently using a small fraction of the resources on a $80 per month Linode instance will run on a Windows virtual server costing $300 per month (which includes SQL server license).

The Windows virtual server will probably be managed (because my client uses only Apple and Linux systems and doesn’t employ anyone with Windows skills) which adds an extra $100 per month. If the server isn’t managed then they will have to hire someone to apply patches and that won’t necessarily be cheaper.

So using Windows is going to cost my client an extra $400 per month when compared to the possibility of running a Linux system on the existing virtual server. Even if my client had someone with Windows skills to run the server it would still be an extra $300 per month. If the NBN was available then my client could run a Windows server in their office, but it’s not yet available in their area.

Even for a company that employs people with more Windows skills than Linux skills there are still economic factors in favor of Linux due to smaller hardware requirements and the lack of license fees for all the core software (OS, database server, web server, etc).

Summary

These anecdotes aren’t unusual, it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time. Sometimes the result is good (EG avoiding the iPad), sometimes it isn’t (being stuck with a proprietary web service).

I think I’ll have to suggest to my clients that every contract have a “no proprietary software” clause. Contracts can be amended if there is a reason, but it seems best to make a preemptive strike against companies that sneak proprietary software in and cause significant unexpected expense and difficulty.

5 comments to Some Proprietary Platform Issues

  • Adam Skutt

    A better option is when you hire someone to produce a good that involves a maintence or reguar service fee, to disclose the fees or a good-faith estimate of them when they submit the bid. Any that do not should be rejected for non-compliance.

  • i

    You can deploy “in-house” apps that do not require going via the app store in any way. See in-house apps

  • Anonymous

    @Adam Skutt: That doesn’t quite cover it, though: a contractor with an insufficiently broad worldview may assume you already have a given tool, and almost certainly doesn’t know if you have a preference for FOSS tools over proprietary tools (a non-monetary cost orthogonal to licensing fees).

  • Jason

    At some point the recurrent cost of running the proprietary server is going to
    exceed the cost of having the Web site rewritten yet again by a Linux/Foss
    developer.

    It might pay to rewrite it sooner than would otherwise have been the case. At
    this point it’s a question of the most cost-effective way out of the
    situation.

  • etbe

    https://developer.apple.com/programs/ios/enterprise/

    i: The above URL says that it costs $299 per annum to be registered to “Distribute proprietary, in-house iOS apps to your employees”. Nothing there about selling hundreds of iPads with software pre-installed which is what my client wants to do. If my client could sell thousands of iPads right from the start then they could probably make a deal with Apple. But initially the volume probably won’t be enough to do anything that’s not part of one of the standard offers.

    Anonymous: Yes, that’s the problem. If someone has a MS-SQL server with spare capacity and a spare NT server along with staff who have the skills to run it then it’s probably not going to cost much.

    Jason: Yes, but they haven’t even gone live yet!