Linux versus NT
Are you getting the most from your OS?
A comparison of Red Hat Linux 5.1 and Windows NT 4.0, with Solaris 2.6 thrown in for good measure. (700 words)
A couple of useful conclusions can be drawn, though. First, Linux and NT are roughly comparable. Whenever I found a claim that one was better in a particular area, I could find a plausible counter-claim going in the other direction. The two seem to overlap a great deal.
The second thing to report is that people really are making the switch from NT to Linux. Though I haven't performed any statistical reductions of this, it's still worth reporting on what advantages motivated the true-life decision-makers with whom I spoke. Judge for yourself how well these reasons match your own needs.
We've included Solaris in the rack-up to add some perspective. Solaris is Unix, like Linux, but vendor-specific, like NT. It's at home behind glass windows, but much of what it does depends on open source software. Java software often appears first on Solaris, yet even experienced system administrators don't know where to find good Solaris office suites.
Finally, note that we've deliberately eliminated some important dimensions from this table. Estimates for cost of maintenance, for example, range widely, and differ little between Linux and NT. No short description does them justice. Service arrangements, scalability, and hardware compatibility are crucial -- and you'll need to work them out in detail with your vendor, because what you'll find is a larger subject than I could cover here.
|x86 operating systems||RH Linux 5.1||WNT 4.0||Solaris 2.6|
|Range of compatible hardware||Very wide||Modest||Narrow|
|Minimal hardware||386, 8 MB||486-Pentium, 16 MB to 32 MB||Pentium, 32 MB|
|Representative cost of
|VB vendor support||No||Yes||No|
|Oracle vendor support||Announced for 1999||Yes||Yes|
|Average downtime||Very low||As low as 30 min./week||Very low|
|Performance||High||Comparable to Linux||Half of Linux to same as Linux|
portable to 64-bit OS)
|Since 1995||Year 2000?||In late beta|
|Remote administration||Standard||Just released June 16||Standard|
|Since 1995||Since 1993-4||Since 1990|
|Off-the-shelf SMP limit||4||10||64|
|Clustering maturity||Since 1997||Since 1997||Since 1994|
|IP Security (IPSec)||Yes||Committed to support||1999|
|hardware bugs (F0 0F,
div, ...) patched
|Reboot required for installations||No||In many cases||No|
|Overall user satisfaction,
according to Datapro
|Source code readily available||Yes||No||No|
|Java developer tools||Lagging||Yes||Yes|
|Corporate acceptance||Tiny, but growing||Yes||No|
|Installed base||Many millions||Many millions||Hundreds of thousands|
|VolanoMark 2.0.0 JVM performance (higher is better)||234||1411||839|
The correct format for understanding why an organization decides on Linux is really a narrative, not a checklist. Recurring themes in the Linux narrative are that the OS is reliable, flexible, and high in performance. Here are some typical stories:
NT, on the other hand, has traditionally held the upper hand when it comes to ease of use, ease of installation, predictable service, and the size of its application portfolio. But these distinctions seem to be evaporating. Many organizations prefer the support provided by Red Hat and other Linux vendors over that of Microsoft. Linux now does a better job than NT at plugging-and-playing selected hardware. A Linux desktop can be configured not only to look like Windows, but to run application suites that are functionally equivalent to Microsoft Office. Linux implementations of new standards and protocols are often the first to appear. Because its source code is widely available, Linux patches for hardware defects sometimes pop up overnight.
NT remains the preferred choice in many situations. For organizations that are comfortable with it, those who have compatible and sufficiently potent hardware, and particularly for those relying on ActiveX or other proprietary Microsoft protocols, Linux holds little advantage. Wired's HotBot development team, for example, acknowledged that it sacrificed out-of-the-box reliability and performance in its recent move to NT, but did so to gain access to a number of emerging NT technologies. NT boasts replicating directory services, an export-licensed cryptography API, transaction processing, and several other hot items.
Are you content with the features and functionality of your current platform? If so, don't waste your time on a gratuitous change. If not, another operating system might well take you to new levels of integration, manageability, performance, or reliability.
About the author
Cameron Laird manages his own software consultancy, Network Engineered Solutions, from just outside Houston, TX. Reach Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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