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Microsoft versus Linux: Users sound off, part two

Where is the truth behind the hype? IT pros sound off about their experiences with Microsoft and Linux in part two of this series of letters to the editor.

This week SearchWindowsManageability asked Windows professionals to comment on Microsoft Corp.'s new approach to addressing competition from Linux. We asked them if they'd believe Microsoft, if that company offered a rational reason not to choose Linux. Also, we asked if their experience with Linux and Windows revealed that the TCO of Windows is lower. IT pros quickly began responding to our questions. We began publishing their letters to the editor in part one of this series. In part two, two IT consultants weigh in on the Microsoft versus Linux TCO question.

Making a fair comparison

--Submitted by Wade Eilrich, CTO, Staffordware Inc.:

Linux and Windows are not yet ready for comparison except in a few well-defined areas: Web serving, file serving, and security. This is because there are not nearly as many productivity or business-specific applications -- such as general accounting, reservation software, inventory control, etc. -- available for Linux.

In Web services, Linux has Windows beat, hands down, except for Web server configuration. One of these days someone will write a GUI front-end to Apache similar in function to MMC and that could obviate any need for IIS. It is not yet clear how .NET, which allows the Web programmer to build multi-tiered web services in the programming language of choice, will affect current and future Web designs, but in this area Microsoft has the potential to position IIS as a superior platform for development and deployment. However, relying on .NET could also increase the TCO because of the additional resources needed for the programming, maintenance, testing and administration of each language supported.

In file serving, Windows NTFS is about on par with Linux in the file sharing arena. Windows and Linux take opposite initial positions for permissions. Windows permissions are initially non-restrictive and Linux completely restricted. This makes it easier to share Windows files, but those shares are more prone to security problems because of the initial, lax settings. It is more difficult for users to share files under Linux: in general it requires an administrator to set up the shares, but this is an advantage where security is a concern. Both operating systems require and administrator to plan and implement file sharing correctly for all but the most trivial cases.

In security, Linux is far superior to Windows, not only because it is based on Unix, a much older and better tested operating system than Windows, but also because of the open source community. Windows has to rely on Microsoft to fix bugs, holes, leaks and other security concerns. The Linux community allows anyone with the knowledge and a compiler to implement and test their own fixes. This leads to the development of rapid, accurate and well-tested patches. The Linux community can be problematic to the IT professional because of the quantity of patches that can (and should) be applied to various packages. One the one hand, because security problems are addressed very quickly the TCO is lowered. On the other hand, the sheer volume of patches that need to be applied raises the TCO. Overall, Linux is more stable and mature and it requires fewer security patches than Windows.

Let's be realistic

--Submitted by Paul Wolfson, Ph.D., President, Process and System Integration Inc.:

Yesterday I watched a movie in DVD format on my Sony PS/2 plugged into the back of my VCR. The fact that my TV receiver was tuned to channel 3 to do it is an historical accident. But the frequency I on which receive channel 3 is not an historical accident anymore than the formulation of the gasoline I used to drive my car to purchase the DVD. Those wars were fought by corporations in their day, their names scarcely a memory.

Will I believe what Microsoft has to say about Linux? In a word, no. But that really misses the point. I don't believe what cigarette manufacturers have to say about lung cancer, either. When IBM introduced the PC, it didn't matter that I had a Z80-based CPM PC running twice as fast at half the price. CPM and Digital Research were dead in a year, and I had a hot, slow IBM PC on my desk running MS-DOS. Cigarettes deliver tar and nicotine as represented. Microsoft delivers computing, word processing and email to its clients.

To buy a PC without a Microsoft operating system and usually bundled MS Works means that I have to go out and buy that PC from Joe's Microsystems rather than Dell, Compaq, IBM or HP. That is a political act, not a rational decision in the market place. What can the Linux world do? It has to be patient and smart. Microsoft has not made significant inroads to the core business side of the IT world. Very few banks trust their ATM networks to Windows, relying more on HP-UX, Tandems and IBM mainframes.

Linux is more stable, but does six months between reboots rather than six hours matter to the average PC user? In the 1960's, almost everyone laughed at the Japanese for launching the Corolla and Corona Toyotas. Forty years later, GM still isn't marketing a competitive small car in the North American market, though they do worldwide. Linux, being open source, could be innovative, better and cheaper. To the end user, it is none of the above. Saving a hundred dollars on a thousand dollar purchase of a PC does not pull users away from Windows.

If Linux collectively took on the task of making networked computing truly easy; if Linux actually rethought what an Office suite was and did significantly better than MS Office at a lower price; if Linux were a key player in bringing computing to key areas of peoples' lives like high mileage low maintenance Toyotas, then TCO and other arguments would be worth taking notice of.

I know, and perhaps you know, that my $400, small Linux-based Samba server outperforms a $4,000 Windows 2000 Server and is much, much easier to administer. But the battle lines have shifted to the battle of the Xbox, PS-2 and the set-top box from the cable company. In that arena, Microsoft is in a fight for its life, and it knows it. It has probably lost the enterprise computing war, at least for now. What Microsoft has to say about Linux is irrelevant; that battle was over when Unix based Z80 machines became obsolete.


Want to respond to what was said? Want to add your own opinion? Please write to us at

Read part oneof the Windows versus Linux letters.

For more views on Microsoft versus Linux, read part three.

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