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Small Business Solutions: Linux vs. Windows 2000

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Considering a move to Linux for your small business? Are you worried about current or future costs of upgrading and maintaining your servers and software? Linux author Bill Ball gives you an up-to-date comparison of the latest features, benefits, and costs of choosing and using proprietary or open-source solutions for your company.
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The software industry is currently in the throes of change. Normally, change in the computer business arises from discovery, invention, and implementation of new technologies. However, the current changes, which include shifts in marketing strategies and the reshaping of generally accepted business paradigms, are being brought about by a (relatively) new phenomenon: open source software and business models.

Linux—and other free operating systems such as FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD—are accompanied by thousands of free software packages that are unencumbered by distribution, licensing, or royalties. These operating systems and software packages also provide software source code, long considered the "crown jewels" and foundation of many traditional software businesses. Features such as these are enticing many individuals, businesses, and organizations to consider whole or partial adoption of open source software solutions.

A new business model based on the open source movement has evolved around related spin-off technologies and services. The model's components include value-added software contributions to free operating system and software packaging, education, training, support, consulting, specialized services (such as programming or research and development), embedded device development, security, and other technologies.


This narrative does not focus on using open source as a business model, but contains a short comparison of using Linux or Windows 2000 as a computer platform solution for a small business setting. In an attempt to be forthright, even though the title of this narrative is "Linux vs. Windows 2000," it must be stated that truth in such a comparison can be elusive. Many Linux proponents and Microsoft pundits tend to shade such comparisons in terms of exclusivity (that is, using only one operating system or products from a single, albeit monopolist vendor). The reality is that the use of Linux (or Microsoft products) in the business world can be represented by shades of gray rather than black or white.

The reason is that small business owners are smart and (usually) fiscally responsible. The best computing solution for a business may be a mix of platforms and products. Some reasons include client preferences or capabilities, existing software and hardware capital investments, legacy in-house procedures for data transfers, accounting requirements, or human resources. Owner, management, or employee training, experience, and preferences will also play a part.

Another factor confounding a definitive comparison is fairness. The title of this comparison could be better termed "Red Hat Linux vs. Windows 2000" or "SuSE Linux vs. Windows 2000" and so on, rather than a straight comparison of Linux vs. Windows. Linux is the kernel of a free operating system. Only until Linux is combined with thousands of free software packages does Linux become a Linux distribution. Similarly, Windows 2000 is a proprietary commercial operating system, but only achieves its purpose in collaboration with other software packages (although Microsoft has argued otherwise in U.S. federal court and has stated that some applications, such as its Web browser, are an integral part of the operating system).

Both operating systems as bare platforms are matched by the incapability to do anything except run on a computer; and this narrative does not compare the reliability, security, or performance of the operating systems or software. An operating system is useless without commands, clients, and applications to run (unless of course, a server or other software service is embedded in the operating system itself and deployed for a particular purpose—such as Linux's capability to serve static Web pages using the Integrated Kernel-based Application Protocols Layer and Object Cache, known as Tux).

Another issue is the process and cost (fiscally and psychologically) of migration to a new platform. Unless mandated by contractual obligations, most companies don't have the advantage of the startup moving up from ground zero. The process of adoption or migration to a new software platform can be very intimidating on a number of fronts, such as employee training and associated costs.

Linux has an advantage in that its flexibility and interoperability allows the migration process, which Red Hat, Inc. terms "engagement," to be done over a longer or shorter periods of time (as little as a weekend or a single day to several weeks, depending on the site size). Linux also has the capability to mimic or provide many Windows services transparently in a mixed environment over a network.

This paper will use Linux products from Red Hat, Inc. as the example Linux distribution and software, along with Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system, its variants and associated software, for any comparisons. References for quotations are included in each section.

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