Users tackle question of Linux vs. Windows on the server

Which operating system is better on the server, Windows or Linux? We talked to some IT professionals to find out.

The battle between Linux and Windows for server-side dominance is continuing to play out in data centers worldwide.

While some are drawn to Microsoft due to Windows' ease-of-use, manageability and application availability, others feel that low cost, high stability and the freedom of being able to tweak and analyze source code makes Linux the only choice.

SearchEnterpriseLinux.com recently conducted an unscientific survey of readers asking them to size up the current state of the battle between Linux and Windows on the server. Most agreed that while Microsoft is still by far the dominant player, Linux is only getting stronger, and is gradually moving out of the realm of "edge" applications and into more mission-critical tasks.

Looking ahead...

SearchEnterpriseLinux.com's informal survey asked readers to predict how the competition between Linux and Windows will be playing out two years from now. Here's what some of them had to say:

"Just like Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chevy, Intel and AMD, the OS wars are getting much more fierce." -- Steve Lee, IT/IS technician, Mescalero Apache Telecom Inc.

"Linux its going to grow up and will have at least the same numbers of servers installed [as] Windows." -- Guillermo Horner

"Linux 80%, Windows 20% (There will still be people who don't get it.)" -- Walt Sullivan, security and systems administrator, Magma Communications

"I don't see much of anything changing. Linux will continue to improve [and Microsoft] will continue to alienate people with their pricing and lack of security. But Linux will still be playing catch-up." -- Steve Baugh, systems programmer, ANPAC

"Microsoft [has a] cash mountain and in my opinion they will try and buy out a company such as Red Hat and ship Microsoft Linux. If that happens, we will see a definite split between commercial and non-commercial Linux users." -- Shaun Holt, technical director, Merchant Pagan

Positive progress for both

Steve Lee, an IT/IS technician with Mescalero Apache Telecom Inc., a tribally owned telecom and ISP in Southern New Mexico, said most of his firm's eight servers are loaded with Red Hat Enterprise 3 or later and are used for everything from Web serving to virtual hosting.

"Red Hat has come such a long way in the development of their distro," Lee explained. "[It] generally comes with many more tools on the distro disk, or [tools are] readily available as an RPM download, to manage your network, firewall, your LAN and WAN [wide area network]."

Despite his longstanding bias toward everything Linux and open source, Lee said Microsoft has been making significant progress on the server of late.

"Microsoft is doing a lot better in supporting and updating their security and other features. More programs and apps are being included in the installation disks," he said. "And, of course, they are the big boys in the industry, so there is more commonality when dealing with end users and their PCs."

Guillermo Horner, an IT worker who did not name his company, said his firm turned to Linux two years ago when searching for a low-cost way to deploy a firewall. Currently, Horner said he's still running that one Linux firewall server and has plans to deploy a second Linux server for his company's intranet. The firm's six remaining servers are all running Windows.

Horner said the biggest benefits of Linux include low overall cost and tight security, while Windows is "easy to install and [offers] IT professionals support from a big corporation."

Walt Sullivan, a security and systems administrator with Magma Communications, deployed Linux for the first time in 1997 because he wanted a secure, multi-tasking, multi-user system.

Sullivan, who is not a fan of Microsoft, said the major benefits of Linux over Windows include reliability, configurability, availability of source code for inspection, and the large community of knowledgeable and helpful users.

The main benefit of Windows that Sullivan named was "the opportunity to be constantly entertained by the flow of 'urgent' patches emitted by Microsoft."

A need for more Linux training, interoperability

Steve Baugh, systems programmer with ANPAC, said the fact that so many people are trained to work in a Windows environment is a plus for Microsoft.

"Linux needs to be able to provide an environment closer to what the people trained in Microsoft tools are accustomed to working with," said Baugh, whose firm first installed Linux on the mainframe about two years ago.

Alternatively, Baugh said, "Linux is superior in what it can provide, but there's not enough support for MS tools."

Conventional TCO wisdom questioned

Tom Simpson, a consultant currently working with Fujitsu Computer Systems, said for edge applications like e-mail and Web serving, Linux is usually the way to go. But for desktop and business applications, "Windows wins hands down [in terms of] reliability and the amount of readily available software and support."

Simpson also had an unusual perspective on the issue of Linux vs. Windows total cost of ownership (TCO).

"From a TCO standpoint, I don't care what Microsoft says and I don't care what Red Hat says, the real answer is that they are almost neck and neck over time," Simpson said. "What you save in software cost, you lose in extra training, support and other areas."

Dig deeper on Windows-to-Linux migration

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