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Linux still seen as most secure

Good score for Linux but Windows has made up ground.

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Microsoft's efforts to improve the security of Windows have paid off, leading to significant improvements in patch management and other areas, according to executives from North American companies surveyed by Yankee Group.

The Linux-Windows 2005 TCO Comparison Survey, to be published in full in June, is based on responses from 509 companies of all sizes in markets such as healthcare, academia, financial services, legal, media, retail and government, Yankee Group said this week.

While respondents rated Windows security much higher than in last year's survey, Linux was still perceived to beat Windows in every security category, the survey found.

The survey largely reflects the attitudes of companies that are already Windows shops. The vast majority of respondents - 73 percent - used Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003 as their dominant operating system, followed by Linux with 15 percent, Unix with 6 percent and Novell's NetWare with 4 percent, and "another open source distribution" at 2 percent.

Even amongst this Windows-dominated survey base, Linux's influence is substantial in companies' future plans. In upgrading their primary operating system, 67 percent said they would use Windows Server 2003, 25 percent said they would choose some form of Linux, 11 percent indicated Unix and 8 percent chose NetWare.

The open-source operating system now used as a secondary operating system in 60 percent of the companies, compared with Windows NT at 62 percent, Unix at 35 percent, NetWare at 16 percent and Mac OS X at 14 percent.

Customers who have already deployed Windows Server 2003 are unlikely to be seduced by Linux, saying they found the Microsoft operating system's quality, performance and reliability equal to or better than Linux, Yankee Group said.

Linux continued to hold a perceived edge over Windows in all security categories, including user systems and Web, file, application and database servers. Linux scored at least 8 out of 10 in every category, compared with 6 or 7 for Windows. Windows' overall rating of 7.6 on security was nearly double last year's score. Respondents said Microsoft's changes to its patching system were working - they spent an average of 80 percent less time on patch management.

Participants' Linux servers took longer to recover from security attacks than Windows - 17 hours for Linux and 13.2 hours for Windows, respondents said. To put this in perspective, however, 92 percent of Linux developers say their systems have never been infected with a virus, and 78 percent said their systems have never been hacked, according to last summer's Linux Development Survey from Evans Data.

Respondents said their Windows downtime was three to four times more expensive than Linux downtime, reflecting the more critical data stored on their Windows systems, Yankee Group said.

The survey was curiously lacking in hard TCO (total cost of ownership) data. Most respondents lacked specific information on comparative Linux and Windows capital expenditure, even though more than half of those surveyed said they had performed a thorough TCO (total cost of ownership) analysis. Those with specific information indicated that costs affecting TCO tended to occur in applications and services rather than at the operating system level itself, Yankee Group said.

Propaganda war
The research firm did not specify how it selected its respondents. Last year's Yankee Group TCO study attracted criticism when it became clear that that the sample group was taken from a mailing list aimed at Windows system administrators.

Last year's Web-based survey was funded and carried out by Sunbelt Software, a vendor of Windows utilities, which publicised the survey solely through a mailing list called W2Knews, billing itself as "the World's first and largest e-zine designed for NT/2000 System Admins and Power Users". In the 16 February edition of W2Knews, which launched the survey, the company said it and Yankee Group were "surveying Windows Sites" to see how they were "responding to the Linux phenomenon and the TCO question".

There is little consistent data comparing Linux and Windows TCO. A 2002 IDC study called "Windows 2000 Versus Linux in Enterprise Computing", for example, found Linux was more expensive than Windows. But this was funded by Microsoft, and more importantly, one of the report's authors later said Microsoft had chosen scenarios for analysis that would be more costly using Linux.

In December Melbourne-based IT services firm CyberSource published an updated version of what it says is one of the few fully transparent studies comparing the costs of running Linux vs. Windows, finding that Linux installations can be up to 36 percent cheaper to install and run over a period of three years than comparable Windows systems, though subscribing to enterprise technical support and buying new hardware and infrastructure can lower the savings to as little as 19 percent. The report is available here [pdf].

Another major independent study contrasting Linux and Windows is a report from Germany's Soreon Research, using data collected from interviews with 50 enterprises. The report found that Linux had up to 30 percent lower TCO than Windows.



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