Corporate IT users are getting caught in the middle of another spin war between Microsoft Corp. and the Linux and Unix communities, most recently Novell Inc.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent a memo late last month to customers and partners lauding the benefits and advantages of the Windows platform over Linux and Unix, raising the ire of open-source proponents charging that Ballmers data was biased.
Ballmer wrote that Microsoft staff around the world have been fielding customer questions about whether open source really provides a long-term cost advantage compared with Windows, and which platform offers the most security. Microsoft customers also want to know about intellectual property indemnification and the best migration alternative for moving from a Unix platform, Ballmer wrote.
Ballmers e-mail cited case studies and research studies, many of which were sponsored by Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., and can be found on its Get the Facts Web site, a program started in January that aims to give customers information about the advantages of using Microsofts Windows operating system versus Linux.
Novell officials in Waltham, Mass., offered a rebuttal last week. John Hogan, Novells vice president of strategic marketing, accused Ballmer of using only statements, principally from commissioned studies, that reflected most positively on Microsoft.
“A broader look paints a much more objective picture, one more favorable to Linux,” Hogan said.
Ballmer wrote that “research methodology, findings and conclusions were the sole domain of the analyst firms,” but Hogan said Microsoft nevertheless generally specified the configurations of the tests.
Ballmer wrote that while Linux presents itself as a “free” operating system, a study by The Yankee Group of 1,000 IT administrators and executives stated that a major Linux deployment or switch from Windows to Linux would be three to four times more expensive and take three times as long to deploy as an upgrade from one version of Windows to a newer release.
Novells Hogan said Ballmer selected only the parts of the report that support a Windows strategy and ignored statements such as “corporate customers report Linux provides businesses with excellent performance, reliability, ease of use and security.” The report also stated that Linux is a “viable alternative” to Unix and Windows, Hogan said. The survey by The Yankee Group, of Boston, also found that Linuxs total cost of ownership and return on investment could be less than, comparable to or more expensive than those of Unix or Windows, depending on the circumstances, Hogan said.
George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., said there is no question about Linuxs becoming mature. At last months Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., Weiss said that by 2006, Linux “will meet the performance requirements of 80 percent to 90 percent of single OLTP [online transaction processing] applications.”
Which System Is Safer
Citing another report—from Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.— Ballmer said that “the four major Linux distributions have a higher incidence and severity of [security] vulnerabilities, and are slower than Microsoft to provide security updates.”
However, Novells Hogan said, Ballmer failed to mention that the Forrester study found Microsoft had the highest number of critical flaws. Some 67 percent of Windows flaws had been rated “critical” under the National Institute of Standards and Technologys ICAT project standard for high-severity vulnerabilities, Hogan said. This compared with 63 percent for (pre-Novell) SuSE Linux, 60 percent for Mandrakesoft, 57 percent for Debian and 56 percent for Red Hat Inc., he said.
Some Windows users said that Microsofts actions—or, rather, inaction—speak louder than words when it comes to promises to fix security vulnerabilities in the companys computing platform. “We run machines with XP and others running Linux,” said an IT manager who requested anonymity, when asked if Windows is more secure than Linux. “The Windows machines cant be on the Internet 2 minutes before being infected by some computer virus or spyware. The Linux machines have no protection and no such infections. So which is safer?”
Some in the IT field say that the more Microsoft bad-mouths Linux while at the same time delaying the release of its own products, the more users will evaluate Linux and other open-source solutions. John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix, said that in SuSE Linux, Novell now has an open-source operating system with a “great grass-roots support effort in the open-source community. Novell has great directory and identity products, and SuSE is a great platform to help get Novells other products in the door at customer sites. They have a window of opportunity against Microsoft now that Longhorn is delayed until 2007.”
Novell should “strike now while the customer base is in flux,” Kretz said.