Tom Salonek, Intertech CEO, authored the article "Linux vs. Microsoft: Not Even Close" for The Business Journal
Linux versus Microsoft: Not Even Close
By Tom Salonek
Did you happen to catch the recent Business Week cover story on Linux, which claimed that the Linux operating system “…is shaking up the technology industry, challenging Microsoft Corp’s dominance and offering up a new model for creating software”?
Pretty heady claims, but don’t count Microsoft out just yet. Much of the Linux mystique is built on misconceptions. The first misconception is that Linux is free. Forrester Research and Yankee Group both compared the total cost of ownership of Linux and Microsoft – from upgrades to support to documentation – and both found that Microsoft actually is cheaper for most companies. (To the credit of Linux, if a company was replacing UNIX or a company was just starting out and didn’t need to integrate with other environments, Linux was cheaper.)
Because even installing a piece of software on Linux can be a challenge, an additional drawback with an upstart like Linux is the lack of skilled workers and easy-to-install native applications that run on it. And the fact of the matter is that Linux comes with more complex (read “expensive”) integration requirements. Other issues to weigh:
• If you want patches or support you need to go through a provider like Novell or Red Hat. In an environment where Windows already is installed, it is more expensive to do Linux according to Forrester and Yankee Group.
• More preparation and planning is required when putting Linux servers into an existing environment versus adding additional Windows servers
• Linux training is more costly and less readily available. There just aren’t as many providers for Linux training as there are for Windows.
Another deceptive aspect of the Linux mystique is the romantic notion that thousands of volunteer programmers have come together to create this open-source software. It’s sort of the ‘60s “peace, love and work together” idea that many people still find attractive (me too!). The problem is that consortiums are hard to manage and can splinter. To date, Linux has done well but as companies move from doing “good works” to making money, the threat of different “flavors” of Linux emerging increases. Today, at the graphical user interface (GUI) level, this is happening.
Linux doesn’t ship with a standard agreed upon GUI interface. Major distributions ship with different GUI. In addition, users choose from multiple free GUI offerings. By providing or allowing users to pick the GUI, like GNOME, KDE, or Motif, Linux advocates say they’re giving “choice” to the user. To me, it just sounds like extra work. To the programmers, these GUI choices mean developers must ensure the end user has the right GUI installed for their application.
Linux documentation is downloadable, but with a size of about 600 Megabytes, you’ll want to have some other tasks to do while it is being saved to your machine. If you get it from a distributor like Redhat or SuSE, expect their version of the documentation. With Microsoft, the documentation that one of your co-workers in Atlanta has for Windows most likely will be the same as the version you’re using. As companies grow, this sort of consistency becomes increasingly important.
In the interest of fairness, I must acknowledge that Linux beats Microsoft in the area of security. Yet, according to another Forrester study, when Microsoft has more severe bugs it does fix them faster than the Linux consortium. Also, both can be deployed securely with professional staff.
Linux versus Microsoft?
If you’re an enthusiastic new company or migrating from UNIX, Linux may be worth a look. Otherwise, at least for me, Microsoft will continue to be my solid recommendation to clients looking for consistency and continuity.