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Research Note
25 July 2000
Updated OS Evaluation: Linux vs. Unix and Windows 2000
G. Weiss

We update the continuing advances in the three key midrange server platform operating systems on a selected set of evaluation criteria.

Core Topic

Unix and Midrange Server Technologies ~ Hardware & Operating Systems

Key Issue

How will Unix and midrange servers evolve during the next five years?

Strategic Planning Assumption

By 2003, Linux will be good enough for enterprise use in most categories, but it will not overtake Unix and Windows 2000 in most areas to create a decided functional advantage in enterprise applications (0.8 probability).

Gartner's OS comparison in October 1999 (see Figure 1) calibrated Linux against Windows NT v.4 and Unix. NT was rapidly approaching obsolescence, while Linux was gaining momentum on the coattails of a strong open-source movement. Since then, Linux has made progress, primarily in functionality important to Internet infrastructure and Web server capabilities, including a greater selection of drivers, easier installation, GUI-based front ends for Web administration and window management. Our updated comparison (see Figure 2) adds Windows 2000 and projects likely functional maturity through 2003 for Linux, Windows 2000 and Unix on RISC.

Figure 1

OS Comparison: October 1999

Source: Gartner

Figure 2

Updated OS Comparison: July 2000

Source: Gartner

Stability: High marks go to Unix and Linux (but at less complexity than Unix), while Windows 2000 with a huge new code base must demonstrate promised improvements over NT v.4.

SMP Scaling: Unix enjoys superiority and Windows 2000 is demonstrating significantly better performance than NT, while Linux awaits further scaling improvements in kernel version 2.4 due later this year.

Clustering: Linux provides good clustering performance, which continues to improve; Unix can match this performance (but more expensively), while Windows 2000 lags.

High Availability: Only Unix currently excels, with Windows 2000 and Linux expected to improve in two to three years in OLTP.

RDBMS Size: Linux is still weak in support of large numbers of disks and shared storage, while Unix will maintain its current advantage for 24 to 36 months.

Ease of Use: Unix and Linux have more complexity than Windows, but technical users may prefer the greater customization and exposed API features, especially in Linux.

Plug-and-Play Drivers: Linux started from scratch and still lags well behind Windows, but many OSS volunteers are at work to redress the imbalance.

Technical Support: The OSS community is a big asset to Linux, but Linux lacks the vendor depth and enterprise experience of Unix and Windows.

ISV/VAR Support: Linux is still mainly focused on Web serving and is strong with ISPs, but it lacks the vast breadth in applications of Unix and Windows.

System Management: Linux cannot handle the variety of functions of a managed distributed environment, whereas Unix and Windows have the necessary depth.

Security: Linux and Unix will approach comparable levels to one another, ahead of Windows 2000.

Pricing: Pricing favors Linux at the low end and midrange, especially in replicated sites, but TCO differences will narrow and may in fact favor Unix as more complex deployments conceal the OS and GPL advantages.

Acronym Key

API     Application programming interface

GPL     General Public License

GUI     Graphical user interface

ISP     Internet service provider

ISV     Independent software vendor

OLTP     Online transaction processing

OS     Operating system

OSS     Open-source software

RDBMS     Relational database management system

RISC     Reduced instruction set computer

SMP     Symmetric multiprocessing

TCO     Total cost of ownership

VAR     Value-added reseller

Bottom Line: Linux, while making technical progress, will still face stiff challenges at the high end as Unix and Windows 2000 continue to advance. By 2003, Linux will achieve in most categories an acceptable rating, but few excellent ratings. To achieve the high-end functionality of Unix and Windows 2000, Linux will need more support from server and software vendors because the OSS community will not be organized or experienced enough for the fast pace of server advances. To gain deep enterprise credibility beyond Web servers and appliances, Linux will need the ongoing cooperative effort of leading system and software vendors (e.g., IBM, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer, Veritas Software and Computer Associates International), which must develop new cooperative relationships with the loosely organized OSS community to fast-track advanced technologies to Linux.

This document has been published by:
Service Date Document #
Unix & Midrange Strategies 25 July 2000 T-11-4094
PRISM for Distributed Computing 25 July 2000 T-11-4094
PRISM for Enterprise Operations 25 July 2000 T-11-4094
NT Strategies 25 July 2000 T-11-4094

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