CHICAGO -- Just how much sense does it make to pit Linux against Microsoft in an enterprise IT environment?
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Not much, because both are here to stay, in one capacity or another, according to three industry experts who led a spirited debate on whether Linux will spell doom for Windows. The panel discussion took place at this week's Enterprise Windows Decisions conference.
"It's horses for courses, and which horse runs best on which course," said John Terpstra, co-founder of the Samba Team, an open-source suite of software. Terpstra, along with author Mark Minasi and Mark Tebbe, co-founder of Lante Corp., discussed the strengths and weaknesses of both operating systems.
Minasi, who is author of Mastering Windows Server 2003, said that one key difference between the two is that Windows is easy to set up but takes more time to maintain, whereas Linux is more complicated to get going, but once it's up, it's easier to maintain.
Minasi also acknowledged that improvements to Windows 2000 have made the software much more reliable than NT 4.0, which requires frequent rebooting.
Terpstra offered that open-source software promotes inventiveness. But what hasn't happened is the next step -- tying it all together to produce something easy to manage and easy to use.
"That's where the open-source model needs work," he said.
This is a shortcoming that can lead companies into dark woods.
Linux is working itself into places that may not employ enough experienced IT professionals who know how to support the software, Tebbe said. In some cases, Linux is introduced by someone who understands the software, but eventually that person moves on to another job or company. The server is running fine, but something happens -- it breaks, and now the company has no one who knows what to do, he said.
The Linux application may be a critical function, yet it may not be documented. "Longer term, someone has to have their arms around this," Tebbe said.
Perhaps the greatest impact of Linux thus far is just how much it has spooked Microsoft. The threat of competition has pushed Microsoft into making its servers more reliable. Linux has had more influence in forcing Microsoft to upgrade its servers than has customer pressure, Tebbe said.
All the panelists agreed that Linux is here to stay -- but not to replace Windows. "Organizations must be aware of it," Tebbe said. "It forces you to understand your architecture very well."
Conference attendees agreed. Some said that they expect to keep learning more about Linux as it gains influence. "There are a lot of different operating systems, and it's all about what suits you best," said Paul Berndt, a network administrator at Independent Inc., a Chicago printing company.
Berndt said that he has a handheld warehouse application that will run on Linux. "I could go with Microsoft, but then it would be bloated," he said.
"We're going to have Linux in our shop, and I'm going to learn it."
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