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New Study Suggest Linux Has Foundational Reliability Problems

At IT Forum in Barcelona on Tuesday, Microsoft announced the results of a study it commissioned which concludes that a foundational design problem in Linux prevents that system from being as reliable as Windows in real-world scenarios. Stung by criticisms of past studies, Microsoft commissioned the highly regarded Security Innovations (SI) for this particular study, which focused on e-commerce Web applications. However, Microsoft and SI maintain that the problems with Linux would no doubt manifest themselves in virtually any scenario. And now, Microsoft is reaching out to Linux makers such as Novell and Red Hat in order to commission future studies comparing Windows and Linux.

"This isn't about 'can' or 'can't,'" Ryan Gavin, the director of platform strategy at Microsoft told me in a briefing yesterday. "There are a million different ways of doing things on Linux, but unfortunately half a million of those are wrong. Customers are starting to hit wall in Linux because of dependency issues. It turns out the componentization model there has some detriments with regards to complexity, manageability, and time to market. Windows has a key foundational advantage over Linux."

What the study discovered was that Linux is essentially a house of cards because of massive dependency problems. In the SI study, sets of experienced Linux and Windows administrators were asked to manage Linux and Windows Server machines, respectively, over a simulated one-year time period. During that time period, the machines--which were running eCommerce Web applications--were upgraded in realistic ways, as if to meet changing needs and requirements. The Linux machines utilized Novell SuSE Linux 8, and were upgraded to SuSE 9, while the Windows Server machines migrated from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003. Additionally, new features were added to the eCommerce applications over time, and both systems were upgraded with whatever patches and security fixes were released during that time period.

"The Windows systems were dramatically more reliable," Gavin told me. It took the Linux administrators six times longer to administer solutions when compared to the Windows admins. Additionally, the patch rate on Linux was almost five times higher than that of Windows. During the tested time period, there were 187 patches installed for SuSE, compared to just 39 for Windows. And the Linux patches took twice as long to apply, with 14 critical breakages, where dependency failures caused necessary applications to stop working. Windows suffered no such stoppages.

The issue with Linux is that commercial Linux vendors such as Red Hat and Novell typically only support the file versions they ship in their systems. If an administrator arbitrarily updates a component version in order to gain new functionality, that system won't be supported by the OS maker, effectively placing the customer in the OS business, according to Gavin.

Despite Microsoft's best attempts at ensuring that this study was competently and independently designed, Linux backers will no doubt find exception with it. I'll be examining this study further in my Windows IT Pro UPDATE commentary next week.

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