pcns - blog - eric braun, owner.


july 2007 - linux versus windows, a pcns perspective

In an evaluation in 2003 between the merits of Linux and Windows Server, at Newsfactor.com, a spokesman (Thomas Murphy) for Meta Group, an IT Research and Analysis group stated,

"If you've got somebody who's smart and can config it, then [Linux is] a beautiful desktop and runs well," says Meta Group analyst Thomas Murphy. "But for the average business owner, [it] does not have that kind of simple nature that you have in Windows."

Microsoft often cites this as a reason to use their server products instead of Linux.  Linux starts off as lower cost initially, but the technical expertise and cost required for upkeep, maintenance, and expansion can be higher in the long run.  Commercial integration, though opposed by many Linux loyalists, who feel the OS should be kept open and free, by manufacturers such as Red Hat and Suse are making significant inroads, but they have a long way to go.  Fewer Linux standards (much less than 360) is what's needed for Linux in the long run to compete with Microsoft (if that's what they want to do).  PCNS believes all these flavors of Linux will result in confusion and a lack of cohesiveness in the marketplace.

What makes Linux successful is also its Achilles heel.  According to Distrowatch.com, there are 360 known "flavors" of Linux.  Distro's are the coined phrase for Linux Distributions.  A vendor like UBuntu bundles the Linux Kernel (the "brains" of Linux) with other packages, such as web, email, SSL, VPN, applications, and other programs and services onto a CD or DVD and sells it.  Other vendors like Red Hat, Suse, Debian, and Fedora blend their own mix.  In theory, any application not in the distro can be installed on any Linux platform.  Personally, I've found that's not always the case.  Distros are typically constantly moving targets, and some major vendors like Suse are going their own proprietary ways.  In industry circles this has been termed "forking" or fragmentation of various distributions.

From http://entropy.brneurosci.org/linuxsetup82.html

"Many of the library packages installed by Suse are now minimal installations that don't have the headers necessary to compile any programs.  It's now necessary to download and install many packages that are supposedly on the Suse CDs, but are actually incomplete.  End users now may have to compile and install dozens of libraries on their own in order to get a particular application to install.  This breaks one of the primary reasons why we have distributions in the first place, which is to prevent users from having to struggle with multiple, incompatible versions of essential libraries.  Installing new system libraries also creates the risk that some (or all) existing applications will mysteriously stop working."

Suse Linux 10.0 getting Proprietary on us:

"Can't start ftpd and telnetd.  Inetd is no longer supplied with Suse Linux.  Suse also seems to have decided for us that we are supposed to force all our users to stop using ftp and telnet.  Use itox or xconf.pl to convert your old inetd.conf to xinetd format.  These programs have to be run with I/O redirection like so:"

itox -daemon_dir /usr/sbin/tcpd < inetd.conf > xinetd.conf
/usr/local/sbin/xconv.pl < /etc/inetd.conf > /etc/xinetd.conf

The output is sometimes wrong, so the files may have to be edited manually..."

Linux not only requires in-depth knowledge of networking and Unix fundamentals, it requires a knowledge of programming (particularly C and C++) because many programs outside a Linux distro have to be complied on the actual Linux Server in order to be installed.  If the support libraries are not present, or are not included in a distribution, then all bets are off.  When attempting to install network related support libraries for Dan's Guardian, a web surfing URL filter service, on a Suse 9.1 install, I was met with cryptic compile time error messages and ominous messages about how updating a support library may break other applications and services which depend on the library I'm trying to update.  Linux support on the web is strong, perhaps stronger than Microsoft, from tens of thousands of sources.  Scouring all this information is a challenge onto itself.

I've found installing Zaval, a File Search/Indexer for Servers, on a Susie Linux 10 platform to be nothing short of impossible.  Maybe I could have got it working in a month, but ultimately what I did was install IBM/Yahoo's free Omnifind, which runs on a Windows platform, and it was ready in under a week.  I later purchased a Debian Linux DVD where I successfully installed the software, but why would this program install in Debian but not on Suse Linux?  For the typical business owner (or less savvy Microsoft tech) Linux can be as much of a black box as Microsoft.  Sure Microsoft is a sealed blackbox and Linux is open, but that doesn't make it easier for me because I'm not a programmer.  Don't get me wrong - I use many technologies which I don't understand.  The electricity that powers this computer while I type is partly nuclear derived - nuclear fission is a concept I do not fully understand.  I use it, but that doesn't mean I want a nuclear reactor in my back room closet.

Supply and Demand

Googling for Linux versus Windows assistance in the DFW area reveals about twice as many links to Windows Service providers than Linux.

linux support "dallas fort worth" 70,000 results
windows support "dallas forth worth" 189,000 results

linux service provider "dallas texas" local 111,000 results
windows service provider "dallas texas" local 224,000 results

linux solution provider "dallas texas" local 103,000 results
windows solution provider "dallas texas" local 184,000 results

So let me pose this question - as a business owner, do you think you could get a better rate and lower total cost of ownership if you have twice as many service providers from which to choose?   According to my Economics 101 whenever a service or supply is in high demand (or shorter supply) prices increase.  Accordingly, it is logical to conclude a small businessman seeking assistance for a Linux server will encounter higher support costs and hourly fees than a Windows service provider, due to supply and demand, and greater technical expertise required for Linux.

 Regarding software, a Linux enthusiast claims you'll upgrade frequently with closed-source giants like Microsoft and Adobe.
"When you learn closed-source propreitary software like Photoshop or Office, you have spend your time indenturing yourself to a lifetime of spending $700 every so many years."

     Dan Martin, Professional web developer and Open Source enthusiast

PCNS begs to differ.  PCNS still sees Office 97, 2000, 2002 (now 10, 7, and 5 years old), Windows NT4, ME, 98, and 2000 Workstation and Server in business environments (11, 9, 7, and 7 years old, respectively).  PCNS still sees Photoshop 7 and Adobe Acrobat 4 and 5.  Dan's statement is rhetoric, not real world.  Microsoft and Adobe would have you believe you should upgrade every three years; that's just marketing talk.

What many Linux enthusiasts may not realize is Adobe and Microsoft sets the standard in which others follow.  Adobe and Microsoft innovate differently, granted.  Adobe innovates, while Microsoft innovates through acquisition and imitation - look at the similarities between Windows Vista and Apple OSX.   The point being, would Linux not be on course where it is, if it weren't for Microsoft and Adobe?  Would we be stuck with manually editing Linux configuration files?

I don't think you'll hurt yourself by learning closed source software.  If you've worked with Microsoft Office, take a look at Open Office and you may see striking similarities between it's free office suite and Microsoft Office!   PCNS believes it's the symbiotic balance between commercial and open source that fosters competition, creativity, and new ideas.  Let freedom of choice, innovation, and the marketplace determine what's best for a small flower shop or large web hosting business.

PCNS owns about six years worth of Linux CD's and DVD's from various vendors so I've been around the block with Linux for a number of years.  I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, and to those of you who are gifted and can work out the complexities of a Linux distribution, hat's off to you, I have great respect and admiration for what you do.   While I equate a Windows guy to a plumber or electrician, a Linux guy is a rocket scientist.  Or, to put it another way, while a Microsoft guy will be concerned with problems dealing with the business processes of a program after it's been installed, the Linux guy will be focused on an IT problem - getting the program installed and running.  From a small business perspective with limited IT resources, Linux may not be the best choice in house.  Don't be misconstrued - Hosted solutions, such as those who provide Linux based web and email services are fine, because they handle the technical back end.

Memorable quotes

Reader comment from Things you can do in Linux, but not in Windows:

"I've recently (past 6 months) switched to Linux, mainly for technical reasons (see #1 below).   It's been an educational experience (see my sys-admin diary at http://machine-cycle.blogspot.com).   It's mostly fun, but not always.  I've had too many incidents that justified the observation that 'Linux is free if your time is worthless'".

"On the other hand Windows administration was never fun."

Things that (really) can't be done with Windows:
1. install a complete operating system (Debian GNU/Linux "etch") using a set of three floppies and a network adapter, with a broken CD-ROM drive.
2. natively format a FAT32 partition that's larger than 32GB (maybe Vista lets you do this?)
3. setup a responsive and modern desktop environment on an old laptop 1.3GHZ AMD 256MB

Additional Reading

Linux, Windows, and You
Investopedia - Economics Basics: Supply and Demand
Windows versus Linux Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Survey
Things you can do in Linux but not Windows
Linux Torvalds, the Father of Linux
The Conspiracy Theory: Linux Violates Microsoft's Patents

Eric presently runs Suse Linux 9.1, 10.0, Debian 4.0, and is slowly learning.