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Golden's Rules: Linux vs. Windows -- The new Cold War

There's an operating system war going on. Don't bet that your favorite will win.

The end of World War II offered a brief moment of celebration, quickly replaced by a new hostility between the victors of the war. The United States and the Soviet Union turned on each another in what was called the Cold War. For the next 40 years, their hostility varied from bitter to resigned; the other nations of the world watched as the conflict overshadowed their own concerns and interests.

Sound familiar? There seems to be a server Cold War going on between Linux and Windows these days. Thinly disguised insults, vociferous assertions of superiority, widely distributed propaganda -- it's all there.

According to adherents of Linux, it is a far superior, more secure, higher-performing operating system. Windows proponents assert that Windows has the backing of the largest software company in the world, offers a tightly integrated computing infrastructure and has, by far, the broadest range of available applications.

Just like the United States and the Soviet Union learned to cooperate, if not become friends, so too will both sides in the server Cold War learn to coexist and integrate.
Bernard Golden
CEONavica, Inc.

And, just like during the Cold War, IT organizations are innocent bystanders, primarily focused on pursuing their own interests, wishing the warring powers would stop fighting and learn to live together.

Guess what? Despite the conflict, the Cold War eventually settled down to mutual, grudging acceptance. And, in a repeat of the Cold War, Linux and Windows will come to coexist in IT infrastructures as well, each being used for tasks that reflect its strengths.

Windows does have a plethora of applications, many of which are not available on Linux today and may never be ported. For this reason alone, most IT organizations will continue to have strong representation of Windows boxes.

Many organizations want to avoid the effort of integrating numerous open source applications, and, for them, the tightly integrated Windows environment may be an option for homegrown applications.

For these reasons, Linux is not going to displace Windows.

On the other hand, Linux has been proven to scale very well, able to run on large multiprocessor machines. For organizations that demand high performance, Linux will undoubtedly be part of their infrastructure.

Despite the war of words about security, it seems clear (to me, at least) that Linux suffers fewer vulnerabilities and offers more robust security. It's probable that most organizations serious about security will use Linux in firewalls, externally facing servers (e.g., Web sites), and so forth.

It also seems clear to me that Linux is a less expensive platform. Over the long run, the costs of license fees, forced upgrades and the so-called Microsoft hardware tax overwhelm any extra expense associated with more expensive personnel that, putatively, are required for open source.

I should point out, however, that this issue of personnel expense is contentious; both sides maintain that they have lower operational costs. Consequently, organizations with tight budgets will necessarily use Linux for many computing tasks like file serving, storage, messaging and the like.

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Therefore, it is improbable that Windows will be able to hold off the open source invasion.

Face the facts: The IT infrastructure of the future is going to be a mixture of Linux/open source and Windows. Nobody's going to win.

Just like the United States and the Soviet Union learned to cooperate, if not become friends, so too will both sides in the server Cold War learn to coexist and integrate.

IT organizations need to recognize that all-Windows or all-Linux is a false dichotomy. They'll have a mix of platforms and applications.

There are significant implications that fall out of this fact. To handle a heterogeneous environment of open source and Microsoft software, your staff will need to have a mix of skill sets. Most importantly, you'll need to keep an open and impartial mind about technical decisions, rather than being swayed by platform ideology.

About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica, a consulting firm offering open source strategy, implementation and training services. A resident expert for, Golden is a well-known authority on open source, particularly regarding enterprise adoption and use of open source. Also, he is the author of Succeeding with Open Source, as well as the forthcoming book Open Source Best Practices.

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