This can o’ worms has been, and will be, debated until both operating systems are no more. But let’s face it — the cost of a per-seat Windows license for a large company far outweighs having to bank on IT learning Linux. This is so for a couple of reasons.
First, most IT pros already know a thing or two about Linux. Second, today’s Linux is not your mother’s Linux. Linux has come a long, long way from where it was when I first started. Ten years ago, I would have said, hands down, Windows wins the TCO battle. But that was before KDE and GNOME brought their desktops to the point where any given group of monkeys could type Hamlet on a Linux box as quickly as they could type it on a Windows box. I bet any IT department could roll out Linux and do it in such a way that the end users would hardly know the difference. With KDE 4.1 leaps and bounds beyond 4.0, it’s already apparent where the Linux desktop is going — straight into the end users’ hands. So with all the FUD and rhetoric aside, Windows can’t compete with Linux in TCO. Add to that the cost of software prices (including antivirus and spyware protection) for Windows vs. Linux, and your IT budget just fell deeply into the red.
You can’t keep a straight face and say the Linux desktop is more difficult to use than the Windows desktop. If you can, you might want to check the release number of the Linux distribution you are using. Both GNOME and KDE have outpaced Windows for user-friendliness. Even KDE 4, which has altered the path of KDE quite a bit, will make any given user at home with the interface. But the Linux desktop beats the Windows desktop for more reasons than just user-friendliness. It’s far more flexible than anything Microsoft has ever released. If you don’t like the way the Linux desktop looks or behaves, change it. If you don’t like the desktop included with your distribution, add another. And what if, on rare occasion, the desktop locks up? Well, Windows might require a hard restart. Linux? Hit Ctrl + Alt + Backspace to force a logout of X Windows. Or you can always drop into a virtual console and kill the application that caused your desktop to freeze. It’s all about flexibility… something the Windows desktop does not enjoy.
For anyone who thinks Windows has the server market cornered, I would ask you to wake up and join the 21st century. Linux can, and does, serve up anything and everything and does it easily and well. It’s fast, secure, easy to configure, and very scalable. And let’s say you don’t happen to be fond of Sendmail. If that’s the case you have plenty of alternatives to choose from. Even with serving up Web pages. There are plenty of alternatives to Apache, some of which are incredibly lightweight.
Recently, there was a scare in the IT world known as Phalanx 2. It actually hit Linux. But the real issue was that it hit Linux servers that hadn’t been updated. It was poor administration that caused this little gem to get noticed. The patch, as usual in the Linux world, came nearly as soon as word got out. And that’s the rub. Security issues plague Windows for a couple of reasons: The operating system comes complete with plenty of security holes and Microsoft is slow to release patches for the holes. Of course, this is not to say that Linux is immune. It isn’t. But it is less susceptible to attacks and faster to fix problems.
This stems from the desktop but, because Linux is such an amazingly adaptable operating system, it’s wrong to confine flexibility to the desktop alone. Here’s the thing: With Linux, there is always more than one way to handle a task. Add to that the ability to get really creative with your problem solving, and you have the makings of a far superior system. Windows is about as inflexible as an operating system can be. Think about it this way: Out of the box, what can you do with Windows? You can surf the Web and get e-mail. Out of the box, what can you do with Linux? I think the better question is what can you NOT do with Linux? Linux is to Legos like Windows is to Lincoln Logs. With Lincoln Logs, you have the pieces to make fine log cabins. With Legos, you have the pieces to make, well, anything. And then you have all the fanboys making Star Wars Legos and Legos video games. Just where did all those Lincoln Logs fanboys go?
#6: Package management
Really, all I should have to say about this is that Windows does no package management. Sure, you can always install an application with a single click. But what if you don’t know which package you’re looking for? Where is the repository to search? Where are the various means of installing applications? Where are the dependency checks? Where are the md5 checks? What about not needing root access to install any application in Windows? Safety? Security? Sanity?
About the only community for Windows is the flock of MCSEs, the denizens at the Microsoft campus, and the countless third-party software companies preying on those who can’t figure out what to do when Windows goes down for the count. Linux has always been and always will be about community. It was built by a community and for a community. And this Linux community is there to help those in need. From mailing lists to LUGs (Linux user groups) to forums to developers to Linus Torvalds himself (the creator of Linux), the Linux operating system is a community strong with users of all types, ages, nationalities, and social anxieties.
Windows plays REALLY well with Windows. Linux plays well with everyone. I’ve never met a system I couldn’t connect Linux to. That includes OS X, Windows, various Linux distributions, OS/2, Playstations… the list goes on and on. Without the help of third-party software, Windows isn’t nearly as interoperable. And we haven’t even touched on formats. With OpenOffice, you can open/save in nearly any format (regardless of release date). Have you come across that docx format yet? Had fun getting it to open in anything but MS Word >=2007?
#9: Command line
This is another item where I shouldn’t have to say much more than the title. The Linux command line can do nearly anything you need to work in the Linux operating system. Yes, you need a bit of knowledge to do this, but the same holds true for the Windows command line. The biggest difference is the amount you can do when met with only the command line. If you had to administer two machines through the command line only (one Linux box and one Windows box), you would quickly understand just how superior the Linux CLI is to the vastly underpowered Windows CLI.
For most users, Vista was a step backward. And that step backward took a long time (five years) to come to fruition. With most Linux distributions, new releases are made available every six months. And some of them are major jumps in technological advancement. Linux also listens to its community. What are they saying and what are they needing? From the kernel to the desktop, the Linux developer community is in sync with its users. Microsoft? Not so much. Microsoft takes its time to release what may or may not be an improvement. And, generally speaking, those Microsoft release dates are as far from set in stone as something can be. It should go without saying that Microsoft is not an agile developer. In fact, I would say Microsoft, in its arrogance, insists companies, users, and third-party developers evolve around it.
That’s my short list of big-ticket items that Linux does better than Windows. There will be those naysayers who feel differently, but I think most people will agree with these points. Of course, I am not so closed-minded as to think that there is nothing that Windows does better than Linux. I can think of a few off the top of my head: PR, marketing, FUD, games, crash, and USB scanners.