Windows NT (or 2000) vs Linux Comparison ?
Many of your questions may have already been answered in earlier discussions or in the FAQ. The search results page will indicate current discussions as well as past list serves, articles, and papers.Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Feb 27 09:36:31 PST 2001
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On Tue, 27 Feb 2001, Yoon Jae Ho wrote: > Can you help me to find out the comparison information between Windows > NT (or 2000) vs Linux Comparison ? I'm not sure what you mean (and this is perhaps mildly off topic, although integration of beowulfs and linux clusters in general into WinXX dominated environments isn't completely irrelevant to the bigger picture, if not particularly technical), but let's give it a shot. Beowulf technoids can always hit the old "d" button about here --> <d> WinXX: Costs (typically) $100 to $3700 retail (the latter for Win2K Advanced Server with 25 client access licenses). Upgrade costs slightly lower, but only slightly. Historically "requires" an upgrade to maintain compatibility every 2-3 years, although a few people managed to stretch e.g. Win 3.x or Win95 out a bit longer. Required office suite (Office, of course) costs $190 to $800 retail, depending on the included components. Compiler/development suites, not included, cost $500 to $900 retail (if you stick to Microsoft products, perhaps $200 and up if you go with other companies). Finally, there are applications packages for all sorts of things -- Netware, virus protection (pretty much required on any WinXX system) backup packages, desktop publishing, database operations -- that cost anywhere from $30 to $1000 depending on what you get and how current it is. Let's say that a minimal desktop configuration (Win 98 or ME) including the cheapest version of office (which omits useful things but so it goes) and an antivirus package but NOT compilers and so forth is perhaps $300 retail. A high end developer-class workstation configuration might cost $2500 or more for software alone, full retail, or obviously as much more as one needs to spend for particular software packages. Client/server configurations look like they'd average at least $500 a seat, not including compilers or a lot of extra server. Microsoft has created a gladsome world where they are likely to make far more actual profit per computer sold than the retail seller of that computer. Additional costs not included in the above but critical in any wide scale adoption of WinXX on an enterprise basis include the non-scalable management costs of administering what is essentially a GUI driven operating system interface on a large collection of networked boxes. This limits, fairly sharply, the number of systems a single administrator can install and manage. Humans trained and certified in systems work tend to be expensive. I'm going to fairly arbitrarily judge that a single $60K person can manage 60 Microsoft desktops in a typical organizational setting, which adds $1000 apiece to their cost. Note that this number can vary wildly from organization to organization, depending on many things, so it will almost certainly need to be adjusted. Some places with unusually skilled people might scale up to several hundred seats per administrator. Other places only have ten or twenty seats in the first place, but still have to get an MCSE to care for them full time. Overall, I cannot see admin costing less than $300/seat/year and in most cases it will be many times that. Folks familiar with outsourced Windows admin costs (probably a fair basis for low end costs for large organizations) should feel free to correct me. To be fair, a large organization or University can almost always reduce per seat costs of Windows software by dickering out a site license. Duke, for example, pays only a small fraction of the non-human costs indicated above per seat. Benefits of using Windows include an extremely wide range of commercial software to choose from, lots of great game software to distract your kids and employees and self from constructive tasks, the widest possible range of hardware device support, and a simple, intuitive interface to most software that holds down training costs and user support costs. A backhanded "benefit" is that Microsoft has made e.g. Office formats a de facto standard in many environments, which ensures "intercompatibility" for any organization that chooses to standardize on one particular flavor of WinXX and Office and so forth. Finally, since the needs of 90% or more computer users are met by anything that allows them to create and edit formatted text documents, send and receive mail, browse the web, and possibly run simple spreadsheets, a standard office-equipped PC (the $300 software cost system mentioned above) is indeed an adequate desktop solution for most users and can be "managed" by complete computer-idiots from its GUI in a home or very small office environment, with varying degrees of success (but success nonetheless). Antibenefits of using windows (exclusive of the out of pocket costs discussed above) include reportedly lower stability -- I can vouch for this personally up through 98 but haven't managed to get a dual boot Win2000 box up yet. Part of this instability is associated with a significant and well-publicized vulnerability to highly destructive computer viruses that can be imported by careless users both in applications and in e.g. email attachments where it is difficult to guard against them. Windows also suffers tremendously from a lack of NON-GUI based systems interfaces and proper multiuser/multitasking capabilities in 9x, and a lack of secure remote network accessibility in all flavors. This latter disability has many disadvantages. Itemizing, it is extremely difficult to build a network-distributed scalable management scheme. It is difficult to impossible to login to your WinXX system to do or check on work in progress when not at the console of that system. It is difficult to impossible to open graphical tools running on system A and display them and manage them from system B. Overall, Windows is stuck in a time warp of network obsolescence at least seven or eight years old. I think it is this that annoys me the most about WinXX (he says as he sits at home, typing on linux box A, piping keystrokes through a masqueraded connection through gateway linux box B, sent to a mail program running in the department on linux desktop C, while running a remote GUI that allows me to monitor job progress and CPU activity on a small cluster of remote systems, all without any real hassle associated with it). It is incredibly limiting to one's productivity to be chained to a particular desktop and has been for years, yet WinXX products persist in perpetuating the one user, one seat "personal computer" paradigm of the 80's. The separation of server from client capabilities also falls very much in this category as a disadvantage -- one has to basically reinstall a system with a new, much more expensive version of the operating system in order to convert a "client" into a "server". Windows itself is delivered in a nearly useless base configuration -- it only becomes useful as additional software is purchased, starting with some sort of office suite, since in its baseline configuration it doesn't really support all of the basic user tasks indicated above. There are expensive transitional points between versions of WinXX and mixed-function applications. A significant antibenefit of Office in particular is that although it presents itself as an "intercompatibility standard" it is in reality anything but. Documents produced by office components have historically been highly NON portable -- often backwards incompatible with Office itself, occasionally incompatible with Office itself running on non-Microsoft platform. <wry>For some mysterious reason, users of Microsoft software components find themselves inevitably channeled towards the adoption of WinXX in its latest incarnation running Office in its latest incarnation. Of course, as Microsoft itself is fond of saying, they aren't anti-competition or anything...;-)</wry> Then there is the overwhelming barrier between Office users and everybody else -- most of the world interprets the phrase "document standard" to mean "open, well documented, publically agreed upon" so that anybody can write a document manipulation tool to open, edit and save documents of that type. RTF, for example, is such a standard for formatted text. HTML and SGML also represent standards of this sort. Users who work in environments where real open standards are the non-competition-stifling rule get extremely annoyed when documents are sent to them in a proprietary format, and this can form a real (and expensive!) barrier to interaction outside a WinXX/Office-version homogeneous domain. Similar barriers hold, of course, for other proprietary document formats produced by other commercial software vendors used on WinXX platforms. A final, extremely important antibenefit of Windows is the lack of well-documented access (or even UNdocumented access) to signficant parts of the system -- no access to software sources, no access to the guts of the operating system or even its functional system specific interface, no access to its device drivers -- except as provided by an extremely limited GUI. If something works via the provided GUI interface out of the box you are golden. If something doesn't work, you're sunk and it's nobody's "fault" (that is, there is nobody you can hold legally or financially responsible for fixing it) so you're going to end up paying for it one way or another. Note that this is usually sold as a benefit -- all things on a Windows system are supposed to just work, and work simply through a predictable and intuitive interface. Reality, of course, often dictates otherwise and the frustration and lost productivity associated with trying to "fix" the essentially unknowable and unfixable within the confines of a finite set of permutations of GUI buttons in my opinion at least easily balances the benefits realized when it works, especially when one realizes that this needn't be an either/or design choice -- one can easily engineer and document things to be manageable by both GUI (when it works) and the hard way (but still much easier than no way at all) when they don't. To summarize, WinXX on an organizational scale is quite expensive -- probably averaging $600-1000 per seat at the time of installation and with an incremental cost of some $500-700 per seat per year (including both amortized revolving software upgrades and scaled management costs). Its primary benefits are ease of use and minimal training costs for the most commonly used user software and an internal intercompatibility realized for any organization that adopts it exclusively, the widest range of commercially available software, and numerous avenues for obtaining paid support. Its primary antibenefits include lack of stability, lack of network accessibility and network-based scalable management options, a closed source, poorly documented, mostly hidden kernel interface, and significant incompatibility/interoperability problems in a heterogeneous environment. Linux: Costs (typically) $0 (well, pennies per seat) to about $150 for a box-set professional server edition. Note that there exist linux box sets that costs as much as $2000, but these are for high-availibility clustering servers intended to run e.g. massive distributed websites (these are not beowulf-style compute clusters, for sure) and aren't really something one can compare to anything in the WinXX lists above. Amusingly, for the $0 cost (really anywhere from a few dollars for cheap CD's or the net access required to download a free distribution to that full $150, amortized across the number of seats one wishes to install upon), one gets the operating system, a full suite of compilers and development tools of all flavors, a choice of GUI's, a selection of office tools that include web browsers, WYSIWYG formatted document editors, mail tools, spreadsheets, and a choice of full relational databases, all plural by intention, as well as all the software required to make the desktop host in question a server, a client, or any mix in between of the two. No licenses are required for any part of the package. All sources to everything in all the packages is included, generally in a prepackaged build-ready format so one has BOTH the sources AND the ability to make simple changes and immediately and consistently reinstall or upgrade the applications from the modified sources. A single CD, or a two CD set, suffices to install an entire department with any mix of clients, servers, hosts that function as both, hosts that function as gateways/firewalls, hosts that function as beowulf or HPC cluster nodes. It is rare to require any additional software, but commercial office suites and database products and compilers are certainly available for prices ranging from a few dollars a seat to a few hundred dollars a seat, and some task specific commercial tools that might cost even more (on any platform). Still, the average retail software cost per desktop in any organization has to be guestimated as being in the $30-50 range per seat, and will only be that high if the organization feels an obligation to actually buy box sets of the distribution selected for every few seats or spends money on third party documentation (which might just as easily be needed and purchased for a similar WinXX installation). The per seat costs for management must also be considered far lower for linux than for Windows, with some caveats. First, there is no question that linux distributed systems management scales far, far better than WinXX ever could dream of scaling with its current architecture. It is straightforward to set up an organizational network where any box can be installed with linux over the network at zero marginal cost to the user from a single common source repository using a single, downloadable floppy image (we have such an arrangement at Duke -- I've used it and know that it works quite well indeed). Within a department, tools like kickstart can be used to almost totally automate installations and major upgrades, other tools (some still under development) can totally automate security updates and intermediary upgrades. One skilled systems manager, armed with these tools, can now manage a network of moderately homogeneous linux hosts of truly awesome proportions. A network of hundreds of hosts is fairly easy. The limiting factors are much more the number and complexity of the servers required and the need to provide user support to folks at all of those seats than anything associated with systems installation and maintenance, in stark contrast to WinXX departmental LANs where installing a system requires order of hours of time and where arranging an upgrade of a hundred-host department requires either a team of trained installers or days of downtime (or "mixed" uptime). Our linux sysadmin has managed minor upgrades of some 150 hosts in a few hours work, mostly spent developing a single distributed script to be triggered by cron. A fair estimate of cost (comparable to the one above) might have a single $60K admin caring for a network of 180 hosts (mostly clients, but with 5-10 servers of various sorts as well. Again these are real-world estimates based on what we have accomplished at Duke; your mileage may vary in either direction. A small organization might not have 180 hosts of any flavor to support; a large organization might find that it could run 1000 desktops with twenty or thirty servers with a team of two or three (depending mostly on how much training and user support is required -- two admins could support 2000 boxes if no user support is required, assuming rollover replacement every three years (or roughly two new systems a day), onsite hardware service contracts, moderate control over hardware configuration (sorry, no exotic or unsupported hardware) and perhaps fifty servers, and nothing fancy required on the side -- these admins would NOT be your webmasters, java developers, WinXX problem debuggers, hand holders. Another significant administrative cost-lowering advantage of linux in a complex environment is that with a well-documented, primarily ASCII file interface to the kernel and all major operational tools, with instant access to compilers and open, freely modifiable sources for all of those tools, and with a wide range of networked support interfaces (mailing lists, websites, development repositories like sourceforge) a skilled systems programmer can debug and fix nearly any quirk that arises in a given network installation. By this I mean that showstoppers in a Winxx environment, like a complete lack of some critical service or daemon, become mere bumps in the road under linux. In an environment that does NOT stretch administrative resources to the theoretical limit (generally a bad idea in any event) the opportunity cost time liberated during periods when the network is stable and kept functioning with little effort on the part of the administrators the creative talents of those generally talented programmers is indeed liberated by complete access to the full palette of systems development libraries and tools and your admin group can indeed also be webmasters, code developers and so forth and even find some time on the side to debug problems over in the Winxx side if there is one or hold hands here and there with terrified users. This also accurately describes our local environment -- our primary sysadmin can manage his 150 and rapidly rising linux clients, our central servers, and a crop of heterogeneous and crochety research group linux mixed client/servers and still find adequate time to mess with a limited number of NT systems in the labs and front offices, hold the hands of distraught users of all sorts, contribute to the NFS drivers in the current linux kernels, and even have time leftover to help manage our LUG site, including the aforementioned have-floppy, can-install 7.0 ready-to-run FTP drop. Seth facilitates the installs and upgrades of literally hundreds of linux boxes all across campus (in addition to fully managing our department) and has enough time to spare to do other stuff. Again to be fair, linux still does have a more limited supported device list than WinXX, and systems persons will waste more time getting marginally supported devices to work. If an organization is willing to force all users to use Office (and pay the up front costs of doing so) one would imagine that it would be willing to pay the relatively small cost of creating and certifying an approved hardware list. This is something that most organizations would be well advised to do even with a Winxx base, after all, both to achieve the greatest economy of scale on hardware purchases and because Winxx itself is not immune to hardware installation glitches and broken or incompatible device drivers, all of which suck up administrative time and reduce stability. It is also true that linux is an Unixoid OS and hence "expert friendly". It is much more difficult for novices to learn to manage linux in even a minimal install configuration than it is for them to deal with Win9X. Users who attempt to do this using only the provided GUI tools not infrequently encounter barriers where things don't work using the GUI only to manage. OTOH, those users have some hope, with linux, of being able to solve their problem eventually outside the GUI. It should also be noted that WinNT or Win2K boxes aren't much easier to manage if run as moderately secure, multiuser networked platforms. A lot of the difficulty comes from linux NOT being a "personal computer" interface, and the additional layers of functionality inevitably bring additional complexity on ANY OS platform. Benefits of using linux throughout an organization (from node to desktop to server) include lowest possible cost in software, lowest possible cost in scalable human management, greatest possible interoperability and compatibility and standards compliance, superb networking, superb GUI with full ability to execute GUI-moderated tasks remotely as easily as locally, full/continuous zero-cost path between base/client installation and Internet-wide server installation, ability to recycle unused desktop CPU cycles into numerical or other tasks, ability to build COTS HPC supercomputers (beowulfs) or other forms of HP compute clusters (NOWs or COWs), and a far more symmetric and powerful user installation, where users on ALL desktops can access the full suite of code development tools, office productivity tools, general application tools, multimedia tools, and web tools with no additional marginal costs or maintenance efforts. Antibenefits include a significantly higher risk of network-based security exploits that cost one downtime or compromised data (risks somewhat mitigated by the total impossibility of "virus" like attacks that recently have been far more widespread and costly), significantly greater skills required to achieve true admin or systems programming mastery (linux admins -- rightly -- scoff at most "MCSE"s) and a consequently somewhat more limited hiring pool from which to draw reliable talent, considerable difficulty importing MS/Office generated documents and manipulating them in native form (a difficulty that could only be truly mitigated by the breakup of the Microsoft monopoly or the generalized rejection in the marketplace of a non-open "standard" for key document components -- both are possible and the latter even probable over the medium term). Less commercial software is available, although this is largely offset by the large base of functionally equivalent open source software included in the basic distributions. Fewer devices are supported, although the "device gap" is considerably smaller now than it was one, two, or three years ago. Finally, although linux now has excellent GUIs and GUI tools in both the Gnome and KDE suites (with more on the way) a lack of user familiarity with these interfaces and tools is a small but niggling barrier to their adoption over Winxx tools and interfaces among users who are familiar with and used to the latter. In summary, linux is cheap, scalable, powerful and functionally complete, at the expense of greater complexity and hence a greater level of personal expertise required to get the most out of all that power. It lags Winxx in device support and games (rats!) and certain (mostly commercial) tools but the gap is rapidly closing and should continue to close quite inexorably over time. In comparison, I think that the Winxx vs Linux choice is a no-brainer. Where linux is sufficient to meet the software needs of the users, it is the overwhelming cost-benefit-optimizing choice for an organization to adopt from the desktop through their largest server racks or dedicated supercomputer cluster. In environments where software must be run that is not available for linux (for example in our physics student labs, where the lab software that runs with the transducers in the lab kits is WinXX based) one should regretfully run e.g. WinNT or 2K and pressure the software manufacturer for a Linux version ASAP (while looking for commercial or open source linux alternatives). Organizations that expect to EVER communicate externally should avoid endorsing Office as any sort of de facto standard, and indeed should likely set up true interoperable standards for their critical documents (e.g. RTF, PDF) or (in a pinch) even those Office formats that import and export adequately in competing office suites to facilitate true document portability. This will provide those organizations with the greatest possible flexibility and opportunity to minimize costs -- if linux continues to improve (and I'm certain that it will because what else can it do?) functionality can be shifted to it smoothly at near-zero marginal cost as it becomes cost-beneficial to do so (as each successive mission-critical application becomes stably available for linux). Ditto for scaling up a linux administrative group -- once it is established enough to provide good administrative scaling and possesses enough local linux expertise to support the local degree of complexity, it can be expanded within the organization at a NEGATIVE marginal cost. After a brief period of investment, linux will SAVE the organization money for every system that converts from Winxx. In the long run, this is all that matters. In the long run, this is why Linux will "win". Lower marginal cost at equal or better productivity is money in the pocket, and money in the pocket is profit or investment capital. Linux has been growing at the highest possible rates in server markets for all of the reasons above. It is also growing at a high rate on the desktop as more folks make it over the initial hump associated with the conversion from Winxx and as the wisdom of setting up an integrated/transitional Winxx and linux becomes more apparent to corporate managers who've seen it work in their server shops. With the minimum cost per seat of Winxx in any flavor at easily hundreds of dollars, a minimum cost per seat of tens of dollars or even less is infinitely seductive, once experimentation and success stories published in business and computing journals make it clear that the decision to at least enable a gradual movement toward linux isn't as expensive or risky or irrevocable as Microsoft would like you to think that it is. Note that eventual success of the linux "strategy" is hard for Microsoft, or any other non-open source competitor (e.g. freeBSD) to prevent. Microsoft can lower their prices (they have PLENTY of room to lower their prices) but since they've already saturated the market, lowering prices comes directly out of their profit margin and hence directly-without-passing-go out of their stock prices, which are scaled at P/E ratios appropriate for strong growth companies, not companies that have saturated a market and are suffering gradual erosion of market share to a competitor that can get by on the lowest possible marginal profits. What would they have to do to "compete"? Bundle the operating system, Office, their compilers, full server support, basically the whole nine yards of user software into a single installation and then sell it for less than $100. Quite aside from the antitrust screams this would produce in the software world from dying software companies that live in the grey area between Microsoft prices and linux (content to live on the meat that clings to the bones after Microsoft has picked them nearly clean) this would cost Microsoft 80% or more of their revenue -- they might make a couple billion dollars a year this way, but not twenty. Sooner or later, regardless of what the courts do now with Microsoft, they will be forced to bundle most of what they sell piecewise at far greater profit now and face the Scylla and Charbydis of dramatically lowered profits AND an antitrust suit they will almost certainly lose. This isn't an opinion -- it is pure prophecy based on a knowledge of one of the fundamental forces of nature -- the almighty dollar. They will go down kicking and screaming and trying to invoke antitrust suits on companies like Red Hat that don't own any part of what they sell -- and they will lose on both constitutional grounds and because there is nothing to prevent Microsoft from selling stuff THEY don't own to compete. Exxon would have a hard time arguing that folks selling solar cells made from a public domain recipe involving aluminum foil and toothpaste that can clearly be made at home or made and sold by anyone who wishes is competing "unfairly" in the realm of energy sources in any meaning of the word unfair but "it's unfair that you take my extremely lucrative and otherwise unassailable monopoly away from me by charging low prices for energy that is freely available". I'm curious to hear how their latest gambit -- the "it stifles innovation for you to freely give away YOUR innovations and put our extremely lucrative and otherwise unassailable monopoly out of business so that we can no longer sell OUR innovations" ploy -- will play in the humourously decorated halls of high power. Enough. Hopefully somewhere above you will find whatever arguments you need to move your organization(s) into a slightly saner cost/benefit strategy based on real (i.e. portable, common, open) standards. rgb -- Robert G. Brown http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/ Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305 Durham, N.C. 27708-0305 Phone: 1-919-660-2567 Fax: 919-660-2525 email:rgb at phy.duke.edu
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