No absolutes in OS battle

There are few issues in the IT industry that generate as much passion as the ongoing Microsoft versus Linux debate.

Linux lovers bash Microsoft for buggy software, security holes, pricey licensing fees and cut-throat business practices.

Microsoft defenders say Linux is still immature and costs more to support than Microsoft apps.

So who’s right? Both arguments have their merits. For some companies, Linux will likely be a better option; for others, sticking with Microsoft will prove more productive.

There’s no arguing that Linux is cheaper to purchase than Microsoft products. With commercial verions of Linux, like Red Hat, users pay per-seat licensing fees like they would with Microsoft products. In return for that licensing fee, they get vendor support, including regular updates and patches. But a Linux user could decide to use commercial Linux only for important machines and save money by using free Linux on less important boxes.

Linux also has some security advantages over Microsoft, largely because Linux isn’t used by as many people. If someone’s writing a virus or exploit designed to hit as many people as possible, it makes a lot more sense to target it at Microsoft users. This advantage could disappear over time if Linux continues to gain in popularity, but for now it’s definitely a factor in Linux’s favour.

On the other side of the ledger, stability is a factor in Microsoft’s favour. That may sound ironic since Microsoft’s new software releases aren’t exactly renowned for their stability, but the fact is Microsoft has been around for decades and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The company releases regular patches and product updates. There are a number of commercial Linux companies, like Red Hat, Suse and Novell, that look very stable, but they still can’t claim to have been around as long as Microsoft or have the same breadth of resources.

Microsoft’s longevity leads to the strongest point in favour of its software, which is familiarity. There are a lot of trained Microsoft professionals who have used and studied the company’s products for years.

Since there are so many Microsoft-trained professionals around, they tend to be less expensive to hire than Linux specialists, who are a rarer breed. Even if a company does find a Linux specialist, there are many different flavours of Linux, so further specialization may be required. And if a highly specialized Linux expert decides to leave a company, they’re likely not going to be as easy to replace as a Microsoft specialist.

The bottom line is if you’ve got a fairly large IT staff and you can afford to keep Linux experts, having selective Linux in your network might save you some money. But if you don’t have a large IT staffing budget, it may be simpler, and cost-efficient, to stick with Microsoft.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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