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October 7, 1999

Developer Community Responds to Microsoft’s Linux “Myths”

By CBR Staff Writer

By Rachel Chalmers

The impressive PR machinery of Microsoft Corp has finally moved to squash the company’s irritant, open source operating system Linux. Under the heading: Myth America: Five Facts the Linux Folks Don’t Want You To Know Microsoft seeks to undermine claims made on behalf of the emerging competitor to Windows NT, one point at a time. The five points are performance, reliability, total cost of ownership (TCO), security and suitability for use on the desktop. Microsoft insists that Windows NT can outperform Linux on common customer workloads and that Linux does not yet have full symmetrical multi-processing (SMP) support. It points out that Linux also lacks a journalling file system for use in the event of a system failure. And it insists that NT’s total cost of ownership (TCO) is 37% lower than that of Unix-like competitors such as Linux – even taking into account the fact that Linux is essentially free.

The Linux developer community has not taken these accusations lying down. David Mentre, author of the Linux SMP FAQ, points out that Microsoft is wrong when it says support for SMP will be a long time coming: the current development kernel, 2.3, is optimized for SMP, and a new stable version incorporating SMP is expected before the end of this year. Mentre concedes that Linux still needs a journaling file system, but he names three projects working to come up with one: ext3, SGI XFS and Reiserfs. But it’s the total cost of ownership issue that has most noses out of joint. A closer look at the study Microsoft cites reveals that the comparison is between NT running on Compaq servers and Solaris running on SPARCs – meaning that the figures cited not exactly directly relevant to Linux.

What’s more, Microsoft itself admits that the Solaris boxes are doing almost twice as much work as the NT machines used for comparison. Although the average number of users is almost the same (925 vs 990) Sun systems in certain cases run in more demanding environments, the cited study notes. The average database size on Sun systems is 47% larger than on Microsoft/Compaq systems. More Sun users (39%) than Microsoft users (25%) are running transactional applications on their servers… Sun systems have a higher average number of concurrent sessions (160 vs. 98) and hits per day (3,462 vs. 1,423).So for a 37% reduction in cost, you get a 50% reduction in capability, sniped the Linux developer who spotted the discrepancy. Someone explain how this is a ‘win’ for Microsoft, please.

Microsoft also claims that Linux’s security model is weak. Mentre dismisses this claim as a simple misunderstanding of the way access controls work under Unix. Microsoft also claims that unlike Linux: Every member of the Windows NT family since Windows NT 3.5 has been evaluated at either a C2 level under the US Government’s evaluation process or at a C@-equivalent level under the British Government’s ITSEC process. This appears to be an exaggeration, if not an outright lie. In fact, only NT 3.5 with US Service Pack 3 – a virtually obsolete configuration – has been certified as C2 compliant, and then only when networking and the floppy drive have been disabled. Finally, Microsoft says Linux is unsuitable for use on the desktop – a claim Mentre grudgingly concedes, at least for the time being.

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