The Linux Religious Wars

May the customers win

A few months ago, I read an article in Linux Journal ("The Great Linux Revolt of 1998," October 1998) that showed a picture of enthusiastic Linux users huddled around a trash-can fire outside a computer store. They were protesting the launch of Windows 98 and holding up signs proclaiming, "Linux Is Free." They had even pasted a "Linux Is Free" sign over the Microsoft billboard inside the store. Users demonstrating their advocacy for an OS—now that's enthusiasm.

When we launched Windows NT Magazine, readers asked us to advocate Windows NT. At that time, Microsoft spent most of its marketing resources pushing Windows 95 and barely mentioned NT. Readers wanted us to stand up for NT. Six months later, readers told us to stop advocating NT: "NT is doing pretty well on its own; stop telling people how great it is." The market had matured enough that users didn't need to be defensive. The time had come to focus on using NT.

Today, our philosophy is this: NT exists. We tell you what works, what doesn't work, and how to avoid pitfalls. We simply want to help NT professionals get their jobs done.

Understanding the Big Picture
Recently, we started writing about Linux in Windows NT Magazine and our email newsletter UPDATE. In the April magazine, Mark Russinovich looked at Linux 2.2's symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) capabilities. He explained in detail how Linux works internally and how its inner workings can affect performance and scalability.

As I write this editorial, the April issue hasn't reached readers yet, but I predict that Linux users will flame Mark as an anti-Linux NT bigot. What those people don't know is that OS experts in IBM's Thomas Watson Research Center reviewed Mark's article. None of these experts are NT bigots. They found his article to be technically accurate.

More important, Russinovich examines Linux in the same way that he has been scrutinizing NT for the past 4 years. In fact, all Windows NT Magazine writers put NT under the microscope, scrutinizing its scalability, availability, security, performance, compatibility, and ease of use. We examine and test vendor claims. If NT doesn't scale or perform as claimed, we tell you. However, we don't whine about NT's shortcomings. We provide solid workarounds that you can use to get your job done.

When people are part of something new and exciting, they sometimes ignore shortcomings and become overly zealous. Some Linux users pounce on any chance to get back at the evil empire—Microsoft. Other Linux users want to remove potential obstacles to Linux's success.

I understand this enthusiasm: We just launched SQL Server Magazine, which targets DBAs, developers, and data-warehouse architects. The release of SQL Server 7.0 has created new enthusiasm for the product. The SQL Server community is buzzing, and we see the lines forming. Fans of competing databases, such as Oracle, are saying, "My database is better than yours." SQL Server 7.0 has a lot going for it, but SQL Server Magazine will point out areas that need improvement and tell you how to deal with them.

Seeing Both Sides
I recently spoke with the CEO of LinkShare (, an Internet transaction company that switched from Oracle on NT Server to Oracle on Linux to avoid having to reboot its NT machines daily. Now LinkShare pumps thousands of transactions through its Linux Oracle boxes, 24 X 7, with complete stability. In fact, the company achieved higher performance on single-processor Linux machines than on dual-processor NT Server machines.

This story represents a big win for Linux, but LinkShare has to use multiple single-processor machines because Linux can't scale beyond one processor. (This limitation didn't apply to NT Oracle servers.) Fortunately, you can usually load balance Internet applications so that many servers can handle a single application.

Linux has a lot to be enthusiastic about: market buzz, loyal users, and support from top-name hardware vendors (e.g., Dell, Compaq, and IBM) and key software vendors (e.g., Oracle). Perhaps the market is now mature enough for Linux supporters to move beyond religious-fervor and look at the OS objectively. Can Linux solve real business problems? If so, which ones?

If LinkShare's experience is typical, Linux can make a dent in an area where NT used to shine—reliability. NT used to have a reputation as the most reliable OS for the PC. Perhaps Linux can usurp that position and hit Microsoft where it hurts.

Long live Linux. Long live NT. And may the customers win.

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