The Linux community has trashed a Microsoft Canada-funded usability comparison of Windows Server and two distributions of the open source operating system, calling the study done by one of its biggest Canadian partners unfair.

“Linux, from the user interface, from the configuration and

the administration point of view definitely has a lot of ground to make up,” acknowledges Larry Karnis, president of Applications Enhancements, a Brampton, Ont. Linux integrator.

But the study overseen by Compugen Inc. for Microsoft made no comparison of what he says is Linux’s superior reliability.

Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer of Novell Canada Ltd., whose SuSE Linux was one of the operating systems examined, was blunter.

“It’s probably a very nice piece of advertising for Microsoft,” he said.

Alec Taylor, Microsoft Canada’s senior manager of Windows platform strategy, told reporters the company hoped to do a service for system managers.

“We wanted to help the IT decision-maker with some practical, experiential evidence as to what’s going on” between Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.4 and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.0.

“The results are by no means absolute or scientific,” he acknowledged. “What they are is a data point that can be used in a decision-making process that will include other inputs.”

But Chevalier suggested it wouldn’t be worth having on the desk.

Compugen, one of the largest solution providers in the country with some $200 million in revenue, admits it has a very small Linux practice.

According to Andrew Stewart, company’s vice-president of marketing, it hired a Linux technician — Bob Krupka, of Mississauga, Ont., who is also a Windows engineer — and a Windows engineer — Randy Pond, of Toronto — to evaluate the three operating systems out of the box.

Testing, which was done in January and February, looked at the ease and speed of desktop delivery and provisioning, enterprise administration functionality, user and resource administration functions, security and ability to set up networks for mobile computing.

For example, the testers compared the ease of setting up a new user to a network and setting up a virtual private network for a remote user.

Testing hardware included an IBM blade server, a LAN-attached IBM and Hewlett-Packard notebooks and HP iPAQ hand-held devices.

(For a PDF summary of the report, see www.compugen.com. Microsoft and Compugen have promised a detailed version will be posted.)

Briefly, the testers preferred Windows in a walk.

“User authorization shouldn’t be that hard,” Krupka told reporters in a recreation of one of the tests at a Microsoft press conference. Linux was “considerably lacking” in its ability to let a user easily connect to a network remotely compared to Windows, he also said.

Karis agreed that Windows’ graphic interface makes performing some functions easier than Linux. But, he said, that’s because Microsoft has concentrated on the so-called user experience while Linux has focused on reliability and security.

The test, he complained, didn’t touch Linux’s advantages. “Most Linux machines I see, once they’re configured, stay locked down and they run for months or years with little intervention.” And there’s no client access licenses, he added.

Exactly what the value of such a test is isn’t clear. Industry analysts have said for years that Linux will likely take market share first from Unix rather than Windows because of the similarities between those two operating systems. However, that may be changing.

In a report issued this month, Laura DiDio of the Yankee Group noted that a survey of Windows Server 2003 users it conducted believe that OS’s quality, performance and reliability as good or better than Linux.

That perception makes it difficult for Linux to displace Windows Server, she wrote. However, the survey also shows Linux gaining momentum as a complementary server in Windows network, she added.

More than 50 per cent of companies surveyed said they plan to install Linux in parallel with or in addition to Windows systems.

According to IDC Canada, sales of Windows Server are growing at a 30 per cent rate year over year. Linux is growing at a 20 per cent rate, though from a smaller base.

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