A Response to Microsoft on Linux Myths

A Response to Microsoft on Linux Myths
By Jamin Philip Gray
October 6, 1999

Okay, let's look at what Microsoft is saying with an open mind and leave our natural prejudices behind as much as possible.

One point we'd like to address before anything else is that Microsoft misuses the word "Myth" in their document. A myth is typically an unfounded or false notion, something imaginary. Keep this definition in mind as you read this response. We'd like to give credit to Steven Schveighoffer for his astute observations on Microsoft's use of the word myth.

Myth: Linux performs better than Windows NT
Reality: Windows NT 4.0 Outperforms Linux On Common Customer Workloads

We could talk for hours about this one, but we'd rather not. Just do a search on any number of Linux news sites for "benchmark" and you'll turn up dozens of articles. Here are two such articles from the same source (It-Director) that come at the issue from two different angles:
Linux Beats Windows NT in German Benchmark
Linux fails at the OS Corral. So What?

What it boils down to is that benchmarking is a tricky issue. In some areas Linux performs better than NT, in others NT performs better. You can't just say that Linux is faster than NT or vice-versa. That is a meaningless statement. It all depends on what you are measuring the speed of.

Myth: Linux is more reliable than Windows NT
Reality: Linux Needs Real World Proof Points Rather than Anecdotal Stories

Microsoft has a point here. Linux-zealots often are quick to point out that NT is buggy and unstable while Linux runs like a dream and never crashes, but the truth of the matter is that in a way this is merely FUD on the part of Linux-zealots. Before you start up your flame-throwers, think with us for a moment. So often these claims are made by individuals who don't really have the authority to make them. They are zealots who read Linux news sites in particular and don't branch out with an open mind and really read the stories that advocate NT. We personally know several NT sysadmins who rarely have problems with their mission critical NT servers. As Microsoft points out, Linux is still relatively untested in the commercial world. Yes, there are a growing number of companies deploying Linux for real-world applications, but it will take more time before Linux has wide-spread acceptance and testing. An OS takes time to mature. Keep this in mind, as we'll come back to this important point.

If you wish to see that the number of companies deploying Linux solutions is on the rise, go to LinuxStart's section, Companies Using Linux.

"Linux lacks a commercial quality Journaling File System."

This is very true. This is one major shortcoming of GNU/Linux at this time. But this will change. As most of us know there are several possibilities in the near future for a journaled file system including xfs, reiserfs, and ext3.

Myth: Linux is Free
Reality: Free Operating System Does Not Mean Low Total Cost of Ownership

Microsoft makes another good point here, but they are clearly misusing the word "Myth" here. It is a Fact that Linux is free. What this means for the TCO is another matter entirely. Microsoft also underestimates the impact that the Open Source nature of Linux has on the total cost. When determining the total cost of implementing a system in Linux, there are many factors. In some cases Linux may be cheaper, in other cases NT may be cheaper. Linux is a rich and complex operating system, but this does not mean that it is inherently difficult to administer. Modern distributions bundle intuitive tools for system administration, and there is a plethora of free documentation, tutorials, and support in the form of mailing lists, newsgroups, and irc channels. As Microsoft points out in the opening paragraph, "Linux fundamentally relies on 30-year-old operating system technology and architecture." There is no shortage of Unix experts, and anyone who is familiar with Unix should not have trouble migrating to Linux.

We highly recommend reading the Zero Price Tag section from The Practical Manager's Guide to Linux.

Myth: Linux is more secure than Windows NT
Reality: Linux Security Model Is Weak

Microsoft is arguing here that the 30-year-old Unix security model is weak. This is a rather curious statement. When arguing for the stability of NT vs. Linux, they said that Linux needs more time to prove itself, that it hasn't matured and been tested in the commercial world. Now they are arguing the reverse--that because NT is a new technology it is inherently better than the archaic Unix model. The truth of the matter is that because Unix has been around for 30 years, it is a tried-and-true, proven technology. And it is not stagnant, Unix has been developed and refined continually over the years. As we said before, an OS takes time to mature.

"Linux security is all-or-nothing. Administrators cannot delegate administrative privileges: a user who needs any administrative capability must be made a full administrator, which compromises best security practices."

This is simply untrue. Through the use of PAM, groups, and sudo (Thanks, Hugo Gayosso for noting this package), a sysadmin can delegate varying levels of access to users.

"Linux system administrators must spend huge amounts of time understanding the latest Linux bugs and determining what to do about them. This is made complex due to the fact that there isn't a central location for security issues to be reported and fixed."

True, there is not one central location for security issues, but this is actually an advantage of Linux, not a disadvantage. Most distributions have a central location for all bug-fixes and errata. Simply download the package updates and install them. It is very easy. If for example, you are running Red Hat 6.1, simply go to the Red Hat 6.1 Errata page, read about what is broken, download the rpms, and install them. How difficult is that? It should also be noted that in the Linux world, fixes are made and posted at a blistering speed. Often within the same day that a bug or security hole is found, the patch is provided. That is the power of not having one central location..you are not dependent on one company to fix bugs in its timeframe.

Myth: Linux can replace Windows on the desktop
Reality: Linux Makes No Sense at the Desktop

Again, note Microsoft's use of "Myth." It is a fact that Linux can replace Windows on the desktop. To what extent, and whether or not replacing Windows on the desktop is a good thing is up for hot debate. Yes, Linux has a way to go before it gains widespread acceptance on the desktop, but that does not mean that it "makes no sense at the desktop." We personally find it to be an ideal desktop OS for our purposes. If there are applications that you need to run that aren't available for Linux, then don't use Linux as your desktop. We should also note (again, thanks Hugo) that there is software available such as wine, willows, and VMware which allow you to run Windows applications under Linux. We've had mixed success with wine and willows, have never tried VMware, but have heard wonderful reports of that amazing piece of software. In addition, there is the FreeMWare Project which aims to develop a free (beer and speech) alternative to VMware.

Copyright (C) 1999 Jamin Philip Gray. Feel free to redistribute this document or portions of this document as is or with clearly-denoted additional comments provided that this copyright statement remands intact and present.

jamin@DoLinux.org

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