Users Modify the OS

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

"But the average customer is not a technical expert or a Linux developer, so they do not have the skill, or more importantly, the business need, to modify the operating system this way. You could argue that this is why Red Hat and Novell SUSE exist—to provide preconfigured and tested stacks of open-source software so their customers dont need to modify their systems at that level. Thats the value proposition of these companies," he said. "There has always been and there will always be a class of technical user that wants to do this level of modification to the operating system—and its worth noting that, with the right amount of configuration, Windows CE can also run in much the same way on all sorts of small and old devices," Hilf said.
Click here to read more about the hundreds of thousands of downloads of the CE.Net and CE 5.0 source code. But Charlie Ungashick, the director of product marketing of Linux and open source at Novell, disagreed, saying that customers did not move to Linux not because of its performance against Windows on hardware. "Its about a more adaptable support model, the flexibility you get from choosing your own distribution, and being able to customize the technology based on your needs—not just the ones Microsoft provides for. A benchmark which compares a standard installation of an operating system on bare hardware is not reflective of how servers and desktops are used in real-world IT," he said. Its a fact that in most environments, IT will customize any operating system—desktop or server—for deployment in order to maximize the value of that operating system on the hardware they have, he said. In the tests run in its lab, Microsoft found that most modern commercial Linux distributions could be installed successfully on systems with a Pentium processor, with 64MB of RAM and a minimum of 2GB of hard disk space. "Memory prevented the successful installation on a typical 1997 system, as 32MB of memory is not enough to install most Linux distributions or to run desktop applications with acceptable performance. A memory upgrade could prolong the life of such hardware, but the cost and effort of locating old memory and installing it onto all corporate clients significantly reduces the potential savings," Hilf said. Minimum requirements for office productivity performance on a Linux system were any Pentium II (PII) system with at least 64MB of RAM, he said, adding that playback of sound and video would typically require a PII 400 or better. "This corresponds to an average PC issued between 1998 and 1999," Hilf said. If Linux was installed on an older system, such as an average PC of 1997, then the desktop performance falls below what is typically acceptable for a common user, he said. These results were necessary because one of the most frequently asked questions Microsoft gets from customers, particularly in the emerging market and public sectors, is what hardware they need to run operating systems. "As a part of this conversation, one of the misperceptions we run into is that Linux can be easily configured to run on older hardware," he said. "The fact of the matter is that if you look at popular desktop Linux distributions from Red Hat or Novells SUSE, they match or exceed the system requirements of Windows XP. For example, Novell Linux Desktop 9 requires a minimum of 128MB physical RAM, which is identical to the requirements of Windows XP. If you compare OpenOffice 2.0 to the system requirements of Microsoft Office and again they are identical," he said. As such, Hilf said he was not surprised that the minimum requirement for installing and using Windows XP out of the box was much the same for any other out-of-the-box modern commercial Linux distribution. "Windows XP Pro compares well to any of the current commercial Linux desktop systems and outperforms their competitors on hardware compatibility, desktop and multimedia performance," he said. While Novells Ungashick agreed that, as a comparison of "out of the box" functionality and resource requirements of modern operating systems, what Microsoft claimed may well be true, he noted that on the desktop, Linux is far more modular and customizable than Windows, allowing it to run on a broader spectrum of hardware. The Novell Linux Desktop can easily be customized and deployed as a thin client, operating on older hardware with much greater efficiency, he said. To read more from eWEEK Labs review of the Novell SUSE Linux 10.0, click here. Since the actual computing happens on the server, this drives down client-side resource requirements, giving IT a completely standardized desktop image that could be centrally managed: one impervious to Windows viruses, he said. "With Microsoft, you would need to buy additional flavors of Windows XP and server-based terminal services software to do this. The incremental license fees and migration drive up overall costs compared to Linux. Also, Linux includes, which drives down the costs for businesses who want basic office functionality for desktop users," Ungashick said. Linux is also easier to customize for server workloads like file servers and Apache Web servers, while with Windows, there "are hundreds of dependencies which drive up the amount of software needed to run a bare server: You need Internet Information Server, .Net framework, Windows Explorer and so on. This drives up resource requirements. Unlike Windows, Linux can be easily configured to meet the specific need of the workload at hand," Ungashick said. With all the recent hype about low-cost PCs, such as the $100 PC and the much-speculated-about Google PC, a question that begs to be asked is whether this changes the scenario for people in developing nations or people in the developed world. Read more here about speculation surrounding the Google PC. Also, more importantly, would the applications and software those users need be available and run on these machines? And would they not cost more than the hardware itself and thus blow the benefits of cheaper hardware out of the water? Asked about this, Hilf would only say that "this is precisely the challenge Microsoft is working with the industry to address." Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

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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