Windows vs. Linux/OSS today, part 1: Windows expert points to Linux, open source gaps

Linux wasn't created to enhance Microsoft Windows, but one Windows expert says it sure plays that part well. This is part one of our exploration of the state of the Windows-versus-Linux rivalry.

Linux wasn't created to enhance Microsoft Windows, but it sure plays that part well, said Jeremy Moskowitz, MCSE, MCSA and independent Windows consultant and trainer.

Moskowitz cites the common weakness of, and lauds the advances in, Linux and open source software in this interview.

This is part one of our exploration of the state of the Windows-versus-Linux rivalry. In part two, Linux experts size up the situation.

Moskowitz serves the IT community as resident expert for SearchWin2000.com and founder of GPanswers, a community forum where IT professionals can get answers to their toughest group policy questions. He is also the founder of:WinLinAnswers where people can go to talk about Windows and Linux integration issues and find out more about his new book, Windows and Linux Integration: Hands-on Solutions for a Mixed Environment.

Jeremy Moskowitz
Jeremy Moskowitz
How do you think the open source software movement will impact corporate Windows shops?

Jeremy Moskowitz: I think, in the short term, "mostly Windows" shops will be able to leverage open source software to tackle very specific problems they're currently encountering.

It's not my vision that Windows shops will (as some say) "ditch Windows for Linux." Rather, Linux and other open source software will enhance the current Windows offerings.

For instance, wouldn't it be great to have more users on an Exchange server? How do you do that? By offloading the antivirus and antispam capabilities to an open source platform. That way, you have extra load capacity for more users. Solutions like that are popping up all the time.

How would you say that Linux on the server stacks up against Windows today?

Moskowitz: Linux's advantage is in its flexibility, in all respects. It can be run from a floppy, embedded into a car radio, run on a desktop, run on a multi-processor server and run on a server farm. That's scalable and impressive.

Additionally, the real Linux gurus pare down Linux to run exactly as much Linux as they want to. For instance, if you run a desktop computer, does it make sense to have PCMCIA/Card Services support running? Well, if you don't need it, then take it out. With Linux you can. With Windows, you can't.

Linux is nimbler when it comes to changing standards. For instance, when an RFC is finalized, the Linux folks are all about implementing it. Windows support for supported RFCs is good, but not awesome. For instance, the Internet Printing Protocol is supported in both Windows and Linux, but Windows gets the port number wrong. Why? Because Windows was programmed with the old RFC in mind. Linux fixed that problem long ago.

Is there anything Windows does better than Linux?

Moskowitz: Windows does better in terms of ease of use, supportability, hardware options, vendor support and popularity. When I have a problem, I pay $200 to get someone on the phone to get it fixed.

People who run a Linux desktop do so because they're 'taking one for the team' ... and not because Linux has more features or is more powerful.
Jeremy Moskowitz
Windows consultant
When it comes to security and viruses, I've seen lots of data that it's all about equal. Microsoft and the big Linux vendors are about equally vulnerable and come out with patches in a relatively similar amount of time.

Don't let anyone fool you into thinking there aren't Linux-borne viruses, hence yielding more protection from the bad guys. TrendMicro doesn't make a Linux edition of their software for nothing.

What's your opinion of the Linux vs. Windows desktop rivalry?

Moskowitz: People who run a Linux desktop do so because they're "taking one for the team" (as they say) and not because Linux has more features or is more powerful. Linux has a lot of catching up to do to be where Windows is.

But is that really the answer? In my opinion, for the Linux camp to be successful, they have to stop trying to be Windows in all areas. Be different -- not Windows. Mac isn't trying to be Windows and people love it and eat it up.

Novell has publicly said that their next edition of SuSE Desktop will -- I'm paraphrasing here -- "beat the pants off Windows." I'd be very excited to see something that really raises the Linux desktop bar.

Some chief information officers have told us that they don't think open source applications are mature or robust enough for enterprise usage. Do you agree?

Moskowitz: Programmers seem to also be going gaga for JBoss. And I've figured out why both MySQL and JBoss are very, very successful open source applications: They both have the option for professional level support.

In other words, there are lots and lots of wonderful open source applications available today to be downloaded at sourceforge.net. However, it takes a rocket scientist to fix problems with these applications when something doesn't go well.

If you can't get the help you need from the community in a timely fashion -- then what? The open source folks say, "Use the source, Luke." However, for many of us, this isn't realistic. We want a phone number we can call for professional grade support with a guaranteed response time and resolution path.

So, to me, it's not a matter if the applications are mature or robust enough. For instance, OpenVPN is an amazing, robust application for a VPN for both Linux and Windows clients. However, only the boldest administrators will install it and maintain it because, as far as I know, there's no one phone number you can call and say, "Help me, I'm having trouble." A CIO isn't going to bet his company's VPN without professional grade support.

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