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Open-source vs. Microsoft: Who's switching to Linux?

In part three of our Q&A series, two experts -- C. J. Rayhill and Peter Houston -- face off about why businesses are, should be, or may be switching from Windows to Linux.

There's no doubt that Linux is gaining acceptance as an enterprise platform. In this article, part three of a Q&A series, two experts -- CJ Rayhill and Peter Houston -- face off about why businesses are, should be, or may be switching from Windows to Linux.

Rayhill is COO and executive vice president for O'Reilly & Associates. Houston is senior director of Microsoft's Windows server strategies group. They discussed total cost of ownership (TCO) in part one of the series. In part two, they covered the competition between the Linux/open-source camps and Microsoft. In part four, they analyze the successes and failures of the open-source movement.

SWM: Do you feel that more IT decision makers are considering Linux and other alternatives to Windows? If so, why?

Rayhill: Yes, more IT decision makers are looking seriously at alternatives to Windows. The 'Microsoft tax' is probably the biggest incentive to consider switching. Microsoft's new licensing program increases costs and reduces options for many IT departments. The advantages of Microsoft's ubiquity -- standardization and compatibility -- may not be worth the price. A recent study showed that the more that IT managers are exposed to open-source alternatives, the more they adopt them. Draw your own conclusions, but I suggest that you should at least be looking at open-source.

Houston: I think the biggest reasons why companies consider Linux are perception of cost savings, greater security and greater reliability versus Windows. This could be a very long answer, but in short I believe that:

(1.) The IDC study has shown that the long-term costs of Linux are much higher than most people seemed to think;
(2.) The latest data on vulnerabilities and attacks show that Windows compares very favorably to Linux and Unix, and we remain very committed to our increased focus on security technologies, methodologies and programs; and
(3.) I think many people compare Linux to Windows NT 4.0 regarding reliability -- where we do not compare as well -- and many customers have found that Windows 2000 is just as reliable as Linux (and actually both products are approaching the theoretical limit of reliability).

So I would ask that customers compare Linux to Windows 2000.

SWM: Where do options besides Windows or Linux make sense?

Rayhill: On the server side, the only viable options are Windows and Unix...the difference between Linux and Unix being basically open-source versus proprietary.

On the desktop, Mac OS X is making more sense all the time. The cost is comparable to Windows, Office apps work seamlessly, less tech support is needed, and viruses are less of a threat. The Mac OS has long been the best platform for graphics, and now its Unix core makes it a great choice for Unix/Linux/Java developers who can get by with only one machine for both development and 'office work' that requires productivity applications.

Houston: Well, we'd like to think that Windows is capable of most workloads these days!

SWM: Can you give some examples of situations in which business or application needs drive IT decision makers either toward Linux or toward Windows?

Rayhill: Here are some examples:

1. Amazon moved to Linux, and has publicly stated that it has saved over $57 million as a result.
2. Retailers who have limited application needs (such as cash register apps or basic word processing) in their stores are moving towards Linux.
3. Brokerage houses are finding Linux a viable solution because they use primarily centralized, specialized apps.

Other firms, like legal, accounting, etc., need the full Microsoft Office suite and usually have a significant investment in Intel-based hardware. There's no advantage to them to make a switch to Linux on the desktop.

Houston: I think there have been two main drivers towards Linux evaluation. First is a desire to reduce the costs of certain server workloads that are viewed as commodity in nature. These include DNS, DHCP, Web serving and, to some extent, file/print. Second is a desire to move away from the high costs of proprietary Unix platforms to Linux on Intel.

In the first case, I think that the recent data from IDC shows that, while Linux is free to acquire, it doesn't deliver lower long-term costs savings than Windows. So I think customers should look carefully at the components of TCO before they look to Linux to lower their costs on commodity workloads.

In the second case, I can see where the general compatibility and familiarity of Linux to Unix users and administrators could be appealing -- and the economic benefits of the Intel hardware platform are clear. But I also think that customers who are contemplating moving their applications from Unix to Linux should look at all of the costs, and I think many will find that they can get to Windows on Intel just as easily.

Many customers tell me that their eventual goal is to get to Windows (from Unix) because of the developer productivity gains they get from Visual Studio and the rest of the Windows platform. And I think it makes sense to consider making the move directly to Windows, versus detouring to Linux.

>> Continue to part four


>> Webcast: The Windows vs. Linux TCO debate

>> Check out this collection of articles on Linux vs. Windows TCO.

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