Microsoft Challenges Linuxs Legacy Claims

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-01-06 Print this article Print

News Analysis: Tests run in Redmond's Linux lab seek to dispel the myth that Linux can run on anything, especially older legacy hardware.

Editors Note: This story is Part 1 in a series of three stories about Microsofts Linux and open-source lab. Microsoft Corp.s Linux and open-source lab on the Redmond, Wash., campus has been running some interesting tests of late, one of which looked at how well the latest Windows client software runs on legacy hardware in comparison to its Linux competitors.
This may seem strange, given Microsofts desire to upgrade every possible customer to the latest version of Windows, often resulting in a forced hardware upgrade as well. That strategy, however, is far more effective in the developed world than among developing nations, Bill Hilf, who is director of Platform Technology Strategy at Microsoft and runs the lab, told eWEEK in a recent interview.
The tests, which found that Windows performed as well as Linux on legacy hardware when installed and run out-of-the-box, were done in part to give Microsoft the data it needed to effectively "put to rest the myth that Linux can run on anything." "It also shows us what applications can run on those machines and software, helping us better identify the needs and challenges of the public sector in those countries," Hilf said. There was this pervasive belief that Linux could run on older PCs and that Windows could not, he said, adding that Microsoft thus decided to test this premise by installing Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Pro 9.2, Mandrake 10, Linspire 4.5, Xandros Desktop 3.0, Fedora Core 3, Slackware 10.1, Knoppix 3.7, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 out of the box on older hardware to see what happened. "Quite simply, I wanted to examine this factually, using real customer scenarios to test this hypothesis: Can Linux run on older hardware than Windows? In many developing countries and public institutions, such as a local library, they typically dont have deep technical staff, so they need to use software without lots of modification and customization. This is why our testing focused on installing modern distributions of Linux and modern versions of Windows out of the box—simply putting the CD-ROM in and installing—on the legacy PC hardware in our lab," Hilf said. Read more here about Microsofts lab. Asked why he believed there is such a pervasive belief that Linux can run on older hardware, Hilf said the technical capability to modify Linux, to strip it down to run with a minimal set of services and software so that it can run on all sorts of hardware devices, has generated that larger assumption that any type of Linux distribution can run on all sorts of hardware devices. Next Page: Users modify the OS.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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