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Linux Vs. Windows: CeBIT Panelists Weigh The OS

May 28, 2004, 21:15 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jacqueline Emigh)

By Jacqueline Emigh
Linux Today Correspondent

Do Linux security exploits really belong in the same league as Windows security holes? Are OpenOffice and its derivatives actually as good as Microsoft Office? These are just a couple of the questions debated this week by a panel of experts at the CeBIT America show in New York City.

Comparing Linux and Windows security amounts to a "chicken and egg" issue, according to Kathy Ivens, an author and consultant.

Given that Linux is a more secure environment, it's tough to know whether this is because Linux is "inherently more secure," or because Windows is still the more prevalent environment, Ivens said, during a panel moderated by Paul Gillin, VP of Editorial at TechTarget.

Also during the session, Nicholas Petreley, an analyst and consultant at Evans Data, contended that regardless of the numbers of exploits per platform, Windows exploits are often much more severe. Citing materials produced by Microsoft itself, Petreley said that many of the growing population of worms targeting Windows let outside hackers "completely take over" a server.

In contrast, Linux exploits are generally more limited in scope, and more likely to lend themselves to insider attacks, Petreley suggested. One Linux exploit, for instance, permits information in Firebird servers to be overwritten.

Generally speaking, though, Windows is still easier to administer, according to several of the panelists. "That's where Linux is behind, especially in directory services," Petreley observed.

Jon "Maddog" Hall, president and executive director of Linux International, pointed to third-party tools, available from vendors such as IBM and Computer Associates (CA), for managing Linux along with MVS and Unix, for example.

"In enterprise environments, that's what (you're) looking for," said Hall. Yet, he admitted, companies need to pay for such tools.

"(Administrative) controls are a lot better (in Windows)," Ivens asserted, citing printer set-up as one example.

Meanwhile, other panelists pointed to freely available Linux tools such as Samba.

What about Linux on the desktop? OpenOffice and its derivatives lack some of the features of Microsoft Office, according to Mark Minasi, a writer and consultant

Petreley, though, argued that EI (Evermore Integrated) Office, an office suite from Evermore Software, contains a similar feature set to Microsoft Office. Unlike Microsoft Office, however, EI Office doesn't allow anti-aliasing of fonts, he acknowledged, attributing this distinction to a decision by authors of the Java-based program to reduce overhead. EI Office runs on both Linux and Windows.

OpenOffice types of suites also tend to come with fewer fonts, indicated Hall. One rather obvious reason is that some font creators charge for the fonts, according to Hall.

On an overall basis, Linux applications still lack the "fit and finish" of Windows apps, Minasi charged. To gain more traction on the desktop, Linux needs a better GUI, he insisted.

Ivens, however, argued that GUIs aren't necessarily the way to go for all applications. In fact, some database and accounting apps have actually taken performance hits from the advent of the Windows GUI.

"There's no reason to have a GUI to punch in numbers," Ivens said. She harkened back to the days when the MAS 90 accounting system was at its zenith. Back then, MAS 90 was sold in Unix and DOS flavors. "My clients loved it," according to Ivens.

Ivens would also like to see fewer features in today's office suites. Microsoft Office, she quipped, seems to be evolving under an illusion in Redmond that "everyone in the world is collaborating on a single document."

Yet most users take advantage of only a small fraction of Office features, and migration to Microsoft Office 2003 has been particularly slow, Ivens observed.

In terms of third-party desktop applications, Linux is now starting to catch up with Windows, panelists generally concurred. Quicken, for instance, is now available for Linux, said Hall.

Desktop gaming, however, is one area where Linux still lags, according to Petreley. Yet with increasing improvements to game consoles such as Game Cube, more consumers are migrating from Windows-based PC games to consoles.

On the other hand, Windows doesn't necessarily hold much of an edge when it comes to ease of installation, according to the CeBIT panelists. Many users don't know how tricky Windows can be to install, since Windows still comes pre-installed on most PCs, members of the CeBIT audience were told.

Hall said that he'll be more than happy if Linux ultimately captures 30 percent of the desktop space.

"Competition is good," he declared. Hall reasoned that, as a result, no operating system -- not even Linux -- should totally dominate any market.

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