Windows vs. Linux: Think Patch Quality, Not Quantity

News Analysis: Tests at Microsoft's Linux lab show that counting the raw number of security updates required by the various operating system flavors is not as meaningful as examining the efficiency of the update process.

Editors Note: This story is Part 2 in a series of three stories about Microsofts Linux and open-source lab.

Microsoft Corp. seems to be moving away from focusing on the actual number of security patches and updates that it and its software competitors release.

Instead, it is concentrating on making it easy and efficient for customers to obtain the security fixes and update their systems.

Bill Hilf, who is director of Platform Technology Strategy at Microsoft and heads its Linux and open-source lab, told eWEEK in a recent interview that "the differentiator for customers is not the number comparison, but which vendor makes the patching and updating experience the least complex, most efficient and easiest to manage."

Mark Cox, security response team leader at Linux vendor Red Hat, agrees, saying that one of the top reasons machines are ensnared by security exploits is that they dont obtain the latest security updates. "So it follows that to protect users a vendor needs to make security updates as easy and painless as possible, across the entire application stack."

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That is why Microsofts Linux lab simulates production environments—across open-source software, Microsoft software and other commercial software. It has built tests and analysis tools to look at how frequently those systems need to be patched and what the impact of that is.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts interoperability testing lab.

Microsoft has an update model known as "Patch Tuesday" where patches and updates are issued once a month unless they are critical and need to be released earlier. This model is different from those of the various Linux and other commercial software vendors.

As such, the lab has taken various commercial Linux distributions, running a variety of workloads, and simulating the Patch Tuesday model. At the same time, the lab runs the same workloads and system configurations on a separate set of servers that are patched via the normal model from the commercial distribution vendors.

"Looking at various models is the most important area of patch update work were doing in the lab right now. In total, this type of data gives us a deeper understanding of not just how different vendors do patch updates, but also what the impact is to real workloads in a real data center," Hilf said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead here about Microsoft Linux lab test results that show how well Windows client software runs on legacy hardware in comparison to its Linux competitors.

Hilf also stressed that this is not a one-time thing for Microsoft, which is running similar scenarios on an ongoing basis using the latest versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux, as well as the Mandriva, Gentoo, Debian and Ubuntu Linux versions. It also tests a wide variety of Unix systems and BSDs (Berkeley Software Distributions).

Next Page: Testing patch distributions.