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Linux-Windows TCO contest 'a wash' – for now

Which is cheaper to run: Linux or Windows? Microsoft says the answer is obvious, but users aren't so sure.

SAN FRANCISCO - The total-cost-of-ownership contest between the Linux and Windows operating systems is too close to call for now, according to IT pros on the show floor at this week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

In interviews this week, several conferees weighed in on the Linux-Windows TCO debate and an upcoming Microsoft-commissioned study of the costs associated with ownership of the two different operating systems.

"The main difficulty is training the staff," said Fred Vassard, a senior lab assistant at Devry University in Newark, Calif., where they run Red Hat Linux, Windows NT and Windows 2000. "With Windows it's not as difficult because people are more familiar with it."

Ryan Trunck, chief technical officer for Ares Computer of Lakewood, Colo., said the TCO for Linux is slightly higher because it's newer.

"People used Microsoft software growing up," said Trunck, whose organization uses Linux only. He also uses Linux at home. "It's a Microsoft world out there, basically. Once you're knowledgeable about Linux, it's definitely cheaper to run and manage. Linux is easy. You have more open-source alternatives, and you're not locked into proprietary stuff."

"I don't really see them as being terribly different," said Shane Caraveo, a senior developer at ActiveState of San Francisco. "Linux does require more knowledge of Unix systems, and Unix administration is more complex than Windows in some ways."

On the other hand, time spent maintaining Windows raises costs, some users said.

"Unix is a more stable environment, so its costs are less in that way," said Dana Briggs, IT manager at Appliance Parts Equipment in Santa Rosa, Calif. Briggs runs both Unix and Windows.

Today's tough economy is forcing more organizations to look at Linux, said Caprice Settles, a consultant/MVS systems programmer for the U.S. Postal Service in San Mateo, Calif. The U.S. Postal Service is considering Linux for Web servers, a well-known strength of Linux.

"Budgets are really tight," she said. "Linux is definitely getting more exposure because it's less expensive."

Meanwhile, Microsoft is mum pending the release of its Linux-Windows TCO study.

"We're still working with our partner in this, and we're not ready to say who that is," Peter Houston, Microsoft's Windows platform senior director, told TechTarget on the LinuxWorld floor, where Microsoft had its first LinuxWorld booth. "We're finding there's a slight margin in TCO for Linux in very simple Web serving [and] for Windows in super-Web serving, things like hosting environments, that don't have anything to do with Web-centric applications. There's a larger [Windows] advantage … in file systems, network infrastructure and security infrastructure.

"We're not trying to say that Windows is the clear winner in total cost of ownership. It is close enough that customers ought to look at it as a wash.

"We'd like people to compare the comprehensiveness and the integrated nature of our platform versus Linux," Houston said. "We think a lot of people see the perceived cost savings of Linux but don't consider the extra work they have to do to make Linux work in their environment. If the cost is the same, why wouldn't you pick the platform that is richer, easier to use, and more integrated?"

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