Letters to the Editor

Linux: not on the desktop

Readers weigh in on last month's Spotlight on Linux; Cameron Laird replies

September  1998
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Spotlight on Linux: "Linux versus NT," by Cameron Laird

[Read Me]http://www.sunworld.com/swol-08-1998/swol-08-linuxvnt.html

Aw shucks...

To the editors:

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy and count on your e-zine to keep me up to date on Unix. As an aspiring future Unix admin, I count on your tips and explanations of various Unix-related subjects.

To date all my admin experience is on Linux, so I also appreciated the coverage in your August issue on Linux. I recently got my hands on a Sun UltraSPARC and, thanks to my Linux experience, I felt very comfortable finding my way through the filesystem.

Keep up the great work.

Samuel Gonzalez Jr.

Credit where it's due


While you did an excellent job comparing Windows NT to Linux and Solaris, I'm left with one nagging question.

How can Oracle, with only a single announcement of its intent to port version 8, be considered to offer "vendor support"?

To the best of my knowledge, only Informix is shipping an RDBMS product. It may be SE, but it's still shipping while Oracle isn't. None of the major RDBMS vendors are offering support for applications running their products via iBCS.

Granted, Oracle has two-to-one brand recognition on Informix, nevertheless, one should give credit where credit is due.

Mike Segel

Linux on the desktop: not yet


The simple truth about the NT-Linux debate is that Linux has no place on the corporate desktop. The folks who can afford NT use NT. Perhaps if Java really was ready to deliver on its promise today, or if you had a stable of programmers writing applications for you, you could make it work. But the only way to get decent apps on a Linux desktop today is to use WINE or WABI, a decent (not free) VWM, and MS Office.

Sounds good, but in the end it costs the same as Windows and Office. There is Word Perfect for Linux, but it costs the same as MS Word for Windows, and most organizations prefer MS Word. There is Star Office for Linux, but the training costs alone would be staggering if you had a thousand or more users. Perhaps small businesses could use it -- or programmers or graphics pros -- but the real place for Linux is in the lab, on a server farm, or in a data center, not on the desktop.

Windows NT/95 is the desktop. What you use on the back end is a matter of preference, since only a tenth of your enterprise will actually see the difference. There are some nice things in Unix and Linux, like SU, virtual terminals, and the ability to tweak the kernel. Likewise, there are some nice things in NT, like user manager and the easy-to-use interface.

The bottom line is that NT is a production OS, and Linux is not.

Chris Anderson

Cameron Laird replies:

First, thanks to the scores of readers who have written me about this article. I'm still working my way through all the e-mail that has arrived; eventually I'll reply to everyone in person.

The article began life as a sidebar to the table, itself simplified reality, as I explained in the article. I designed the table to serve best a particular kind of MIS department employee who needs to report to higher-ups the "bullet points" for different supported operating systems. The Linux model for sales and support differs from conventional models. I chose Red Hat 5.1 as a specific comparison with Solaris and NT.

That's what led to the entries in the feature chart. While I thank all the readers who took the time to remind me that Linux clusters (some of them closely related to RH5.1) scale efficiently far past the count of 8 that appears in the table, that number was the one I worked out with a Red Hat representative as most directly comparable to NT's claims. As I emphasized in the article, the complexities of such topics as multiprocessing and support for new protocols don't deserve to be reduced to simple-integer or boolean variables. For technical details beyond what appears in the table, see http://starbase.neosoft.com/~claird/comp.os.linux.advocacy/linux_vs_NT.html.

While the article wasn't intended to argue Chris's claim, I think he raises important points. Training is important, and costly. On the other hand, Linux is showing up on a few corporate desktops, and the aim of the article was to explain why. Quite a few departments have found that WINE plus a copy of Microsoft Office is not the only alternative to NT plus Office.

But Chris is right: for the most part, corporate adoption of Linux is a reaction to unreliability and total-cost-of-ownership concerns related to the use of NT on servers.

I summarize: Corporate decision makers uncomfortable with NT in any of its roles have several alternatives. Linux and Solaris are examples of supported operating systems that are roughly comparable or superior to NT in every regard of ease-of-use, cost, application availability, delivered support, and other pertinent dimensions. Different organizations find that different OSs best match their needs. There is no single, exclusive "production OS," even on the corporate desktop.

Cameron Laird

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