Compare Windows to Red Hat

by Dustin Puryear

I was reading through some new postings on a local LUG mailing list here in Louisiana, and saw a note from Chris J. about Microsoft’s Windows vs. Red Hat page. Chris brought up some good points, and I wanted to respond to them.

CJ: Now, let's rip this FUD apart. First, Microsoft acts as if RedHat is the only option that enterprises would ever go with, and they say that while RedHat itself is cheap, it's $2500 a year for support. Okay, that's support, Microsoft. Why don't we compare apples to apples, and point out that Microsoft's support is somewhere around $700 per incident? To me, $2500 a year is FAR cheaper

The cost of Red Hat. Okay, in all seriousness, Red Hat is a little expensive on the front end. We often deploy it for clients, and the base cost of RHEL is a little high, especially since it's a subscription model (you pay it every year) and not a one-time purchase (as with Windows Server). That said, Windows CAL licensing can add up very quickly. So, personally, I would have argued the point based on CALs. But as far as upfront purchase-the-shrinkwrap costs, Windows tends to be cheaper than Red Hat. As far as support costs, well, the RHEL subscription does get you support, but it's not like your local ABC IT company. And most people don't call Microsoft OR Red Hat for support.

CJ: I also find a lot of issue with the fact that Microsoft claims that every distro of Linux is so different that migrating from, say RedHat to SuSE is very difficult, if not impossible. One of the key strengths of any UNIX architecture is the portability of files. The file structure is based on an open standard, and you could very easily take files from something like Turbolinux, and easily bring it back up on any other distro of Linux, or perhaps BSD, Solaris, OSX, HPUX, etc... Linux admins tend to keep the data files on seperate drives/partitions from the OS, so you could simply install another OS on a new hard drive, and mount the old data partitions under that OS, and continue right where you left off. If you need something like a database, it's not hard to dump SQL to a file and reimport it on the new server. And the configuration files are generally flat text files, so how is your data somehow married to the OS/distro that it originated on?

File System Differences. To me, this is a valid point actually. The directory structure across UNIX systems, or even across Linux distros, may be technically something of a standard, but in reality it’s not. Even within the Linux eco-system, it can be hard to remember what is where. Are installs in /opt/ or /usr/local/? How are my rc files organized? Where are my network configuration files? The Linux Standard Base (LSB) group is working hard to address this, but the cold hard reality is that it’s in fact a pain if you are managing more than just a few Linux servers.

Migrating SQL databases. Good point. That is pretty easy (thanks SQL). It’s also very easy to copy a MS-SQL database from one server to another.

CJ: Also, they make the claim that Windows 2003 has fewer published vulnerabilities than Linux. We all know that more bugs will be FOUND in Linux, and they will of course be squashed rapidly. But, due to Windows' closed nature, how many bugs actually EXIST but have yet to be FOUND?

Vulnerabilities. There has been a bit of a fuss these days about vulnerability counts in Linux. The core of Linux, i.e., the OS proper, is stable and generally secure. It’s rather rare to see a published vulnerability for the kernel or any of the base operating system programs. However, most Linux distros do commit the cardinal sin of installing everything and the kitchen sink, and it’s an entirely valid argument to say that a vulnerability in an installed-by-default application is a point against Linux. This is very similar to how people group vulnerabilities in IIS and Exchange with “Windows”. Tit-for-tat. That or we need to all step back and stop grouping vulnerabilities in this way.

CJ: The only valid argument that Microsoft brings up in this article is about the management interfaces. They hands down win in that department, but that's why you hear of UNIX guys working at places like NASA, making $200,000 a year. UNIX OS's are definitely not easier, and you do have to know what you're doing to accomplish the same thing that you can do in Windows with a mouse click. So what? It is what it is. I also love how Microsoft neglects to mention the fact that Windows Server 2008 is playing catchup with the UNIX world by adding a new feature called Windows Server 2008 Core. The core mode basically turns Windows Server into a GUI-less command-line-based server OS. That way, it can run faster, without the bloat and massive overhead associated with a GUI. Sound like any OS you've ever used? Oh, that's right...UNIX/Linux/etc... And of course, once you are using Windows Server 2008 in core mode, you suddenly lose that one advantage that Windows has: its GUI based management interfaces. Those are some great arguments, Microsoft.

GUI. Actually, I tend to strongly disagree here about the focus on the Windows GUI. First, I think that most Linux servers, especially those used in large, commercial deployments, have pretty good GUI management tools. Second, whether in Windows or Linux/UNIX environments, if you have more than several servers to manage you usually manage a lot of it via scripting and automatic deployments (again, this applies to both Windows and Linux/UNIX). That said, you are right that Windows is pushing a more “scriptable” environment (e.g., with WMI, PowerShell, etc.), although even back to NT4, there was the ability to script a lot of tasks if you could live with the pain of using Windows shell scripting and/or of WSH.


2008-03-20 15:03:41
I cannot compare RH because I am a Debian admin. I can compare them both since I just came from a Windows SA job and have done Windows SA work for a while. However, anything I say and anyone else says is a personal opinion only. That said, I would take Debian hands down.
Keith Edmunds
2008-03-23 05:51:33
I'm no great fan of Red Hat, but Microsoft omit to mention that, for your $2500 annual support fee, you get all the server applications supplied and supported too. How much does Windows server plus MS SQL server plus IIS plus Exchange plus MS Office plus the rest cost to a) buy and b) support from Microsoft?
Aaron Trevena
2008-03-24 03:34:28
Yeah right.. the non-standardised bits of Linux Systems make it really hard to manage/migrate.. is that some kind of joke? It's a non-issue, unless you're a complete newbie - and if you're a complete newbie, why are you administering or writing about it on a professional basis.

As for the "bugs in all packages shipped count" nonsense - every single distro gives you options to select what to install, and has done since the days of floppy disk installations.

If you want to talk about comparing vulnerabilities then you have to consider the important things - what is required to do a specific job, how severe is the vulnerability, how quick and simple is it to work around, how long is exposure.

I think windows server has always compared badly on all counts, particularly the ability to work around and the time of exposure, that has certainly been my experience administering and integrating clusters of windows, unix and linux servers.

Ronald Pottol
2008-03-25 17:17:39
As far as vulnerabilities go, on the windows side, isn't there usually a known exploit, even if just a simple proof of concept? On the open source side, they are usually someone notices a potential exploit (which may or may not be exploitable)in the source and fixes it?
Nic Oatridge
2008-03-26 04:57:03
As I read it, Microsoft make a marginal and often contentious case for Windows as a better choice than Linux. I guess they employ a lot of highly-paid people to come up with this, and in fairness they also do have a very good product and they have the motivation of some highly demanding shareholders. However, there is no getting away from the fact that:
(a) Microsoft requires a more expensive hardware platform
(b) Microsoft software has built-in obsolescence, that is the essence of their business strategy
(c) Migrating from Microsoft to any other platform is wildly more difficult than migrating from any Linux distro to any other platform
(d) Microsoft security vulnerabilities are much more heavily targeted than Linux ones are - on average a Linux hole would remain open for much longer than a Microsoft one before somebody exploited the vulnerability.
(e) Linux supports so many different business models that there is always going to be some that are worse for your business than Microsoft, but also at least one that is more suited.
(f) A good admin shop will run any OS as efficiently as any other, there just are not enough variations in the admin tools to trump good old fashioned talent, training and effective management.

Add to that is the fact that the Microsoft business model for desktop computing is unsustainable, and the server platforms are tomorrow's cash cow for the company, no wonder they are worried about Linux.