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Which Is A Better Deal, Windows Or Linux?

It's a question that evokes strong emotions from both Microsoft and legions of open-source supporters worldwide. Yet the discourse rarely is an apples-to-apples comparison or takes into account the true role that an operating system plays within the overall IT environment.

Only about a quarter of 509 companies that the Yankee Group recently surveyed had all of the cost-of-ownership data needed to properly compare Windows and Linux, senior Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio concludes. That finding comes from the Yankee Group's Linux-Windows 2005 TCO Comparison Survey. The study wasn't vendor-sponsored.

Companies that did track data such as capital expenditures, downtime costs, and support services say the most crucial issues and events impacting total cost and return on investment occur at the application layer and services portion of the software infrastructure and not at the core server operating-system layer. "When you take away the religious preferences, most [operating systems] have achieved a high level of performance and reliability," DiDio says. "The infrastructure around the operating system will most certainly influence the customer's choice of operating system."

Linux still faces an uphill battle to displace the massive Windows Server, XP, and Office installed base, according to the survey, largely because of Microsoft's efforts to improve security and patch-management capabilities over the past year. "Last year, Microsoft got beaten up badly on patch-management and security issues," DiDio says.

This year, 88% of respondents rated Windows quality, performance, and reliability equal to or better than Linux, up from 76% in 2004. Linux will continue to gain momentum as a complementary operating system within Windows environments while having much more success displacing Unix and Novell's NetWare, DiDio says.

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