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Linux mentor now heads Windows group

The Boston Windows Server User Group has a new chairman, who also happens to be new to championing the Windows platform. Kent Smith, president of IPSO Inc., in Wayland, Mass., is a consultant with much of his background in Unix and Linux. Formerly with Anderson Consulting, he has also helped clients program, administer and design large relational databases.

As Windows servers have gained in power, and large databases have moved from Unix servers to Intel-class machines running Windows, Smith's consulting practice has expanded accordingly. Today, he is helping to guide IT administrators who grapple with general network infrastructure and Windows Server issues -- in particular, server security -- and in the migration off of older operating systems.

Any thoughts on Microsoft's 'just the facts' marketing campaign, where it compares a Windows return on investment to that of Linux?
It's perfectly reasonable for Microsoft to do this. There are a number of applications where a Microsoft solution is far and away better. My issue is with people who claim it's all black or white with no gray in the middle.

My issue is with people who claim it's all black or white with no gray in the middle. There is a lot you can do with either OS.

Kent Smith, chairman,

Boston Windows Server User Group,
There is a lot you can do with either OS. A lot of the cost savings comes from the amount of training you have to put your existing staff through.

If you are a Windows shop, there is a good economic case to use Windows. If you are a Unix/Linux shop, there is a good case to stay there. Unix and Linux have a steeper learning curve, but once you know it, you can do a lot more with it. If you are in an environment where you don't want a full-time person to administer the server, then it's easier to administer Windows than Unix/Linux. What is the main cause of concern among your members?
Security is one. We had a buggy patch that came down to block the Sasser worm. The patch breaks other IPsec components. We also have a lot of people running NT 4.0. The whole upgrade and conversion process is extremely complex and people are worried about getting it right. All the new stuff out there requires Windows 2000, 2003 and Windows XP, and the enormous base of 9x and NT 4.0 are being left out of all the nice new features.

I understand why this is happening. Everyone understands why. But that doesn't mean people have to like it. Is there any consensus among your members about whether Microsoft is doing enough to secure Windows?
For the most part, we are used to Microsoft not doing enough with security, so everyone sees Windows [Server] 2003 as a major improvement. If you talk to people from the Windows world, they tend to be happy with it. If you talk to people from the Unix/Linux world, they are not impressed. It's enormously better than it was, but it is still, by its nature, flawed.

It is more transparent to manage a Unix infrastructure than to manage a Windows infrastructure. You can see much more easily where your vulnerabilities are and how to address them.

For more information

Read about a report that rates the security of Windows Server 2003


Check out a debate on Microsoft vs. Linux
Most Windows-layered applications are coupled tightly with the OS. It means they can extend themselves into the operating system and do cool things, but it also means they can do malicious things. In the Linux/Unix world, there is a clearer gap between the OS and layered software. Do your members have much interest in the contents of Longhorn?
Some do, some don't. The group is curious, but most aren't looking at the beta yet. Microsoft is offering customers the option of weighing in on some of its new product features. And it seems to be more flexible about what it will and won't do for customers. What's your reaction to this new attitude from Microsoft?
They do appear to be reacting more to the marketplace, but that reflects what's going on in general, not just at Microsoft. Everyone has to cut a deal today, whether it's [Computer Associates] or whether it's Oracle [Corp.] or Microsoft. It's a buyer's market. Four years ago, they took orders. Today, you have to target and be flexible and willing to meet the market.

It's clever that they are changing regularly, which keeps them in the news in a positive way. They keep announcing new things we will get for free. Windows Service for Unix used to be $99. Now it's free. Also, the pop-up blocker with XP Service Pack 1. It's a constant stream of stuff you get with the package.

It's marketing. It's clever and more power to them. I'm all for hearing about new free stuff. It's better than hearing about the latest European anti-trust defeat. A recent survey found that IT administrators are less fired up about switching to Linux than they were when Licensing 6.0 was rolled out two years ago. Are you finding that some of the angst and anger over licensing has died down among your members?
On the desktop side, absolutely. On the server side, the battle is being fought. There are customers moving from proprietary Unix to Linux. There are also a lot of people who are looking at the cost of upgrading and managing their Windows infrastructure and looking to consolidate it. That means two things. You are either going run VMware or [Microsoft] Virtual Server [2005] when it comes out. You will have one physical box running multiple machines, or you are going to consolidate all of your back-end databases running on Linux. You are going to keep all your front applications as they are, talking to a Linux box.

The perception is that you can run more databases on a Linux box than you can on a Windows. The reality is it depends on how you are using them.

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