A Winning Argument for Linux Over Windows

Triangle Tech Journal
2006-03-21

It all started with the chicken and the egg, and when that could not be easily resolved, we moved onto is it butter or is it margarine?  And of course, let’s not forget the classic case of trying to decipher who put what into the chocolate and/or peanut butter? Let’s face it – we thrive on a good argument. And today, it’s about Linux and Windows.

As we all know, no matter how thin you make a pancake, it will always have two sides. And from the breakfast table to the data center, the statement still applies.  There are two [very passionate] schools of thought regarding Linux and Windows.  In one camp, the mantra is “To mess up a Linux box, you need to work at it; to mess up a Windows box, you just need to work on it.”  In the other, it is “Don’t let the penguin fool you, Windows is better.” So what’s the skinny? While comparing Microsoft to Linux might seem like comparing a cannon to a water pistol, it is clearly a case of David versus Goliath with Linux emerging as the poster child for the open-source movement.

Microsoft has frequently decried Linux as a threat to commercial software companies, but open source isn’t about destroying the rights of established companies to sell their intellectual property on the open market – it is about giving developers and enterprises the freedom to develop solutions that meet their business needs. 

Linux is known for its dependability, low cost of ownership, security, and freedom to modify source code.  Because it is based on an open source model, it isn’t crippled by software provider release dates, and can be upgraded at a pace that the development community and users dictate.  For all of these reasons, Linux has established a strong following as a server operating system – accounting for nearly 12 percent of new server operating system shipments.  But that alone does not settle the argument of Linux over Windows.  For that, read on…

  • Security:  As an open source product that practices “security by transparency,” Linux tends to be secure by default.  This is because with open source, anyone can inspect and modify the underlying source code.  Therefore, security issues are quickly identified and corrected – often, before hackers have an opportunity to exploit them. On the other hand, closed systems that practice “security by obscurity,” such as Windows, cannot compete.
  • Scalability:  As a true multi-user, multi-processing operating system, Linux can grow in tandem with an organization and its computing needs – and in some cases, without having to pay additional software licensing fees.  Not so with Windows – where each installation = an additional fee.
  • Performance:  The efficient, compact Linux kernel is designed to maximize use of its hardware resources, delivering high performance with very little overhead.  To find proof, just take a look at Amazon.com and Google – both proponents of Linux. 
  • Systems Management, Availability, Reliability:  Linux offers high levels of reliability, centralized management, and uptime.  It can run for months without a reboot and almost never needs to be reinstalled.  Its reliability and dependability stem from a solid design, based on the best Unix principles, and an open, community-based development process.
  • Openness and Compatibility: Up-to-the-minute…a great way to describe Linux development. As an open source product, Linux  is a modern network operating system that the development community is building and enhancing in line with the latest Internet and international technical standards.  Unlike the proprietary shield enveloping Windows, Linux generally incorporates these standards as they are set out by the industry bodies that write them.  With Linux, there is no lock-in.

    In fact, Linux is distributed by several companies, allowing customers to pick and choose the flavor that best suits their needs.  Windows, on the other hand, is a proprietary product – with Microsoft forcing its users to accept what it offers.

  • Cost of Ownership:  Linux provides a lower longer term cost of ownership and higher return on investment for the following reasons:
    • Less downtime:  The stability and reliability of Linux reduces business costs associated with downtime (e.g. support and lost  productivity).
    • Lower hardware costs:  Linux makes efficient use of hardware resources and can run on less powerful hardware while still delivering high performance.
    • Lower software upgrade costs:  With closed systems, an initial investment in software usually lasts for three years or less, after which upgrades must be purchased for bug fixes and new features.  With Linux, upgrades can be applied as the community develops them.  Further, Linux is covered by the General Public License, stating that it and all derivative works must be distributed with the source code – making it virtually impossible for anyone to monopolize the Linux sector.
  • Rate of Evolution:  Microsoft’s closed development project will find it impossible to advance at the rate of Linux.  Factors that have been named as drivers of this progress are:  the number of active developers; the quantity and the quality of the feedback from the field; the short development cycle from development team to end user; the absence of corporate “meddling” in the design process; and the independently developed open source subsystems frequently incorporated into Linux, giving it quantum advances in a short period of time.
  • Support:  Since the source code for open source software is freely available, most of the popular products are supported by thriving communities of developers, commercial-end users, and enthusiasts.  In fact, for those not familiar with the open source community, the quality of free technical support can be shocking.  Having access to the best and the brightest who are ready to assist you at no charge when you encounter problems that can’t be solved by reading your Linux documentation runs circles around Windows support, which is only free for a limited time and often lacks the ability to provide resolution.

While Linux is not the right answer for every user or every data center application, it has become a strong contender – posing a serious threat to Microsoft’s near monopoly.  With strength in numbers, Linux is a movement rather than a company or a technology.  It cannot be bought out; it cannot be crushed by lawsuits or legislations; and it cannot be out-marketed.  With Linux, ownership of key assets is avoided; the community works and shares in the results of its labor; and there is an avid and active dislike for Microsoft’s proprietary, school yard bully approach.  But beyond beliefs, Linux is proving over and over again to be a better value when compared to Windows.  Now, please pass the syrup.