Get the Facts Right on Linux, Microsoft

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-04-05

Get the Facts Right on Linux, Microsoft

"The times they are a-changin," as Bob Dylan sang.

Last year, Microsoft launched an advertising blitz against Linux titled "Get the Facts," or as I liked to call it, "Get the FUD."

Some of Microsofts "facts" came from research by The Yankee Group. Then, Microsoft claimed that Yankee had found that switching to Linux from Windows was "prohibitively expensive, extremely complex [and] provides no tangible business gains."

Things have changed.

Now, Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio has found that most U.S. businesses say there is almost no difference between the costs of maintaining Windows-based versus Linux-based corporate servers.

Who knew?

Well, anyone whos used both.

According to DiDio, the true costs of server operating systems for an enterprise are determined by how long it takes to develop applications and ensure the security of servers.

Development time, in my experience, has little to do with any operating system and a whole lot to do with your programmers skills and tool sets.

As for security, well, while Yankee found that companies believe that Microsofts security has gotten a lot better, its still below Linuxs security rating.

I really dont understand how anyone can think Microsoft is more secure in the real world. While you can argue until youre blue in the face about how if Linux were as popular as Windows it would also have as many security problems, there are two simple problems with that argument.

First, in the field, Windows is less—far less—secure than Linux. You dont have to believe me. Just look at our security stories, count the ones pertaining to Windows and then count the ones about Linux. Enough said.

Second, at the server level, Linux is already getting to be as popular as Windows. Even DiDio, who has never been seen as a friend of Linux, said "server operating systems are largely commoditized."

Enough of studies and what I think; lets hear what someone who supports both platforms has to say.

I recently talked with John Engates, CTO of Rackspace Ltd., a leading Web hosting company with more than 13,000 servers and not quite a million domains.

Rackspace runs about a 50-50 mix of Windows and Linux for its servers. On the Windows side, the company runs 60 percent Windows 2000 and 40 percent Server 2003. In the Linux space, its RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) all the way.

With that many servers and domains, Rackspace knows both Windows and Linux servers about as well as anyone in the world. What it has found out is that the costs are a dead heat between the two.

Next Page: What people want from each operating system.

What People Want

What is different, according to Engates, is what people want from the two operating systems.

"In the traditional customer base for Linux, they tended to be people who wanted to get under the hood and tweak the dials. Theyre people who want to build a hot-rod race car. Microsoft users are more of a luxury-car owner who doesnt want to get his hands dirty. He just wants it to work."

Thats changing, though.

"Were seeing a shift in the Linux enterprise market. Now, Linux customers also want to use Linux without getting their hands dirty," Engates said. At the same time, "some Windows customers are looking to Linux for application compatibility, cost savings or better performance."

Click here to read about Red Hat topping its sales record.

Lucky Linux users who dont want to know their chmod (a program that enables you to control file access) from their chown (a program that changes file ownership) now can have easy-to-manage systems, too.

"Linux is now getting more and better network and system tools," Engates said. "You can now buy and build best-of-breed tools."

So, what are the major differences today between Linux and Windows users?

Linux users tend to be "people who do sites with high levels of transactions. The transactions may be simple, but they require lots of raw horsepower."

For example, Rackspace hosts Atari, the old game company. Today its "still a gaming company, but its providing game downloads and live gaming," Engates said. "These require very high transaction speeds. Atari recently switched from Solaris to RHEL instead of Windows, [because] they found that Red Hat wins in term of high-volume content."

People turn to Windows for "more complex sites with low transactions but high transaction complexity on the back end, such as online shopping carts. These tend to be built on .NET," he said.

That said, "on Linux, while you need to go out and get a J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] Server, it can still be cheaper," Engates said.

Finally, Engates said he has found that resellers and customers alike enjoy being able to use FrontPage extensions for simple, Windows-based Web sites.

Both the studies and people in the field are finding that the "facts" about Linux are that its just as good a choice, if not better, than Windows. It really all depends on exactly what you need from your servers. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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