OS update: Big three dominate in agencies

OS update: Big three dominate in agencies<@VM>Here's the information that can help make you the wizard of OSes

The Lowdown

  • How do I choose an OS? Like the right wine, the right OS depends on what goes with it. Consider such factors as the size of the installation, the applications you'll use with it, the extent of network management you require, the need for scalability and the importance of stability.

  • Other factors? Check to see if the OS supports your legacy peripherals, hardware and applications. Check out vendor support policies.

  • Hidden costs? Don't forget about the version updates, personnel training, hardware upgrades and driver limitations you'll require when making wholesale changes to your system.

  • Must-know info? Win 2000 puts Microsoft in the game as a maker of enterprise-level, Web-supporting OSes, but Unix isn't going away and Linux continues to broaden its market. So don't base your choice on which one you think will win the OS wars. They'll all be around for years.

  • Pluses and Minuses

    Windows 2000


  • Easy setup and installation

  • Extremely stable

  • Large user base

  • Advanced security and encryption

  • Standardized management infrastructure

  • Advanced Internet services

  • Enterprise-class directory services

  • Support for load balancing and clustering

  • Scalable

  • Three-tiered approach to server management


  • Expensive

  • Difficult migration from NT, Win98

  • Less support for peripherals than NT, Win98

  • Memory-intensive

  • Increased hardware requirements



  • Extremely dependable

  • Years of proven reliability

  • Excellent scalability

  • Excellent security

  • Good system management features

  • Good support for Internet protocols, e-commerce

  • Dedicated user following

  • Posix-guaranteed compatibility


  • Not recommended as a desktop PC OS

  • Complex to administer



  • Inexpensive and flexible

  • Easy setup and installation

  • Scalable

  • Crash-resistant

  • Runs on many platforms

  • Open-source


  • Limited drivers and third-party application support

  • Small user base

  • Windows, Unix and Linux OSes come in variety of flavors


    There are three topics you should be wary of introducing in polite conversation: religion, politics and operating systems.

    Mention the OS word in the wrong place at the wrong time and you might find yourself in the middle of a holy war over what constitutes the best foundation for computing.

    True believers of one camp or another, who abound in tech shops and the trade press, will try to convince you that their choice is the only choice, the anointed system that outshines those of the enemy.

    Passions over operating systems run high indeed, though not entirely without reason. An OS is the central nervous system of any computing environment, be it a palm-size device or a large enterprise. And your choice of OS can be the key to your success as a manager.

    But the truth is there is no such thing as the best OS. All operating systems have strengths and weaknesses, and which one works best for you depends largely on the applications it is to be used for.

    The bottom line for most of us: Which OS delivers the best bang for the buck? Which is the most functional and reliable, offers the best management tools and provides the best overall performance for the tasks assigned to it? Which is cheapest? Factoring in the costs of hardware, software licenses, technical support agreements, upgrades and personnel training isn't a trivial consideration.

    With this in mind, I've taken a look at some of today's most prominent operating systems'Microsoft Windows and the leading versions of Unix and Linux.

    Microsoft is PC king

    Microsoft Corp. rules the client side, taking in 87 percent of the OS revenues in the PC market. This isn't likely to change for some time, even with the emergence of functional and inexpensive Linux desktop and workstation OSes.

    Unix, designed mainly for servers, doesn't really compete with Windows at the desktop PC level, and Apple Computer Inc.'s excellent Mac OS software only runs on Macintosh products.

    Microsoft has parlayed the astounding success of Windows 95 and Windows 98 into two new products: Windows Millennium Edition and Windows Professional 2000.

    Both correct some of the more noticeable flaws of Win9x by offering the stability and dependability of Windows NT, while retaining features such as Plug and Play, Universal Serial Bus support and first-class help, and introducing a wealth of advanced multimedia, home networking and Internet features.

    Windows Me exists mostly for home users. Win 2000 Professional is better for workplace users who want high reliability, enhanced security features, excellent support for notebook computers and compatibility with Win 2000 Server editions.

    I use Win 2000 Professional in my home office and love it, but I offer a couple of caveats. First, it's a real memory hog, and installing it over Win98 can be difficult, if not impossible'I had to wipe my entire hard drive to install it.

    Second, it can be difficult to locate drivers for older peripherals that ran perfectly well under Win98. Many third-party vendors are just now getting around to creating Windows drivers, although a determined user can find them on the Web.

    In the final analysis, the Win 2000 suite represents Microsoft's attempt to develop a full-service bank of OS products. The Win 2000 Server suite is designed to carve out a place in the high-end server market that until now has been dominated by Unix systems.

    Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server offer the stability of NT with a raft of new features. Among them are enhanced symmetric multiprocessing scalability, clustering and load-balancing support, improved Internet Information Services for Web hosting and management, advanced Active Directory services and excellent security and encryption features.

    The Gang of Four

    While there has been considerable fence-straddling of late by the leading makers of Unix OSes'Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.'they aren't about to give up their edge in the high end of the enterprise market without a fight.

    Electronic commerce has become a fertile field for Unix, with its emphasis on scalability, systems administration, security and reliability in an area in which even a tiny percentage of downtime can be significant.

    Unix scales brilliantly and can handle thousands, even millions of users. It is a mature, technically evolved system with a solid track record of performance, reliability and security in server environments. And Posix standards ensure a high level of compatibility among the various Unix iterations.

    Even with the significant improvements of Win 2000 over NT and Win9x, there's no certainty that agencies will abandon proven Unix-based solutions for mission-critical operations, even in the face of pressures from within or outside their organizations.

    Nobody can afford to ignore Linux anymore. The playful penguin concocted by Linus Torvalds has sharp teeth and claws, and is becoming a serious contender for a share of the enterprise server market. Linux is an open-source version of Unix, meaning that anybody may copy and compile its source code, provided they make the resulting changes available to anybody else.

    Is it freeware? Not really. The commercial OSes listed in the chart cost money to buy, though far less than Windows or mainline Unix.

    Linux has tremendous potential as an OS for everything from a desktop PC to enterprise servers. It is highly scalable and runs on a large variety of hardware, including commodity-priced Intel boxes. One of its primary uses is for setting up server farms that can be scaled up quickly and relatively inexpensively as the needs of an organization grow.

    Other uses include support for thin server tasks such as firewalls and e-mail servers, and Web-to-host middleware platforms.

    Coming full OS circle

    At press time, the next version of the Linux core, the 2.4 kernel, hadn't been released, but it will likely bring Linux into the enterprise OS circle with greater scalability, support for SMP and more speed and memory.

    You're in good company if you've already decided to take Linux seriously. Leading hardware vendors such as IBM, Compaq, Dell Computer Corp. and others are beginning to bundle Linux versions with their servers.

    If your PC is set up for a networked environment, Corel Corp.'s Linux OS Second Edition comes with a tool that will allow you to run most Windows applications. Corel's operating systems are desktop PC versions only; other makers produce both desktop and scalable server versions.
    Linux has a lot to offer in price and performance. But no gain comes without pain.
    It's true that Linux vendors have solved their setup and installation woes, and some of them offer adequate, even excellent, support.

    But good support is not universal. Check to see what kind of support'free or for-pay telephone, online, e-mail, fax'is offered with a Linux OS.
    Neither does Linux have an abundance of third-party applications. With the possible exception of Corel's Linux OS Second Edition, there's nothing in the Linux world that approaches Windows for powerful applications support.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@gte.net.

    Microsoft Corp.
    Redmond, Wash.
    Pros: Has improved multimedia, strong system safeguards, better help functions, powerful home networking and enhanced Internet supportCons: Not for serious business users$90; $60 for upgrade
    from Win98
    Windows 2000 ProfessionalPros: Has excellent mobile support, consistent user interface, improved security, strong management, and support for USB, IrDA and IEEE 1394Cons: Doesn't support many older system drivers; requires fast processors and plenty of RAM, and is difficult to upgrade from Win9x$319 per user; $219 for upgrade from Win98
    $149 for upgrade from competitors or NT
    Windows 2000 ServerPros: Includes Internet Information Services 5.0 for Web hosting, Windows Distributed interNet Architecture for developing Web apps and Active Directory Services, and support for eight-way SMP servers, network load balancing, and 56-bit and 128-bit encryptionCons: Lacks a broad base of third-party
    applications support; has a complex pricing structure
    $1,199 for standard product plus 10 Client Access
    Licenses (CALs); $599 upgrade from competitors or NT
    Windows 2000 Advanced ServerPros: Provides enhanced support; supports up to 32
    servers per cluster; has advanced network load balancing and automatic failover support
    Cons: Same as Win 2000 Server; expensive to implement$3,999 for standard product plus 25 CALs
    Windows 2000 Datacenter ServerPros: Supports up to 32-way SMP and up to 64G of RAM; provides four-node clustering and load balancing, and has Physical Address Extension for physical memory extensionsCons: Has very large server processing and memory requirementsPreinstalled in qualified server manufacturers'
    Compaq Computer Corp.
    Tru64 Unix 5.1Pros: Manages multiple systems as one; includes Web-based system management; manages eight-node clusters; has unlimited data storage capability; can support millions of concurrent users and unlimited Internet address spaceCons: Requires several optional software
    packages for high-end performance
    Preinstalled in AlphaServers; $150 per site for CD-ROM
    Media Kit
    Hewlett-Packard Co.
    Palo Alto, Calif.
    HP-UX 11iPros: Wide compatibility and support for HP 9000
    Enterprise and third-party servers; supports up to 32
    processors in same system; scales up to 256 processors; allows app portability from Linux and other OSes; supports PA-RISC and next-generation IA-64 architectures, and supports VPN and user authentication
    Cons: Requires high-end serversPreinstalled in servers
    IBM Corp.
    Armonk, N.Y.
    AIX 4.3.3Pros: Scales to 24-way SMP systems with 64G of RAM; has excellent file, Web and mail services; includes Journal File System Backup, Enhanced Workload Management for resource delivery, concurrent RAID monitoring support, strong security features, ASP developers tool kit and DB2 Universal Database 6.1Cons: Additional charges for connectivity packages to Windows and OS/2Preinstalled in new RS/6000 systems
    Sun Microsystems Inc.
    Palo Alto, Calif.
    Solaris 8Pros: Runs on 32-bit and 64-bit Sparc and 32-bit Intel platforms; is Linux-compatible; supports IPSec VPN security, Kerberos v5 authentication, browser-based installation, and two-, four- and eight-node clustersCons: E-commerce apps aren't as powerful
    as those of other Unix OSes
    $100 per user for Sparc systems; $75 per user for
    Intel systems
    Caldera Systems Inc.
    Orem, Utah
    eDesktop 2.4Pros: Easy installation; has large bundle of apps and browsers; offers 30-day free phone support and 90-day free online support; has Internet connection wizard, and useful plug-ins such as Adobe Acrobat 4.0, MacroMedia Flash and RealNetworks PlayerCons: Online documentation is difficult to follow$35
    eServer 2.3Pros: Easy installation; has strong management features, Web-based administration, tunable kernel parameters, powerful security features, dynamic file descriptors, and MySQL databaseCons: Limited third-party app support$90
    Corel Corp.
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Linux OS Second Edition 2.0Pros: Easy setup; has user-friendly interfaces and enhanced KDE drag-and-drop environment; includes browser-style
    file manager and MP3 player; is compatible with Corel WordPerfect Office 2000, and comes with Adobe Acrobat reader, MacroMedia Flash, eFax and Netscape Communicator
    Cons: Desktop version only; more expensive than similar Linux OSes$90
    Red Hat Inc.
    Research Triangle
    Park, N.C.
    Red Hat Linux 7Pros: Easy installation; can run concurrently with Windows, Mac OS and other versions of Linux; uses the powerful Gnome desktop icon set; has PHP and Zope Web app development tools; includes a full version of StarOffice 5.2 and Netscape
    Communicator; supports USB and 128-bit encryption, and is highly scalable
    Cons: Limited third-party vendor support$30 Standard Edition; $80 Deluxe Workstation; $180 Professional Server; $80 Alpha Deluxe Edition; $1,995 High Availability Server; $2,500 Enterprise Edition Optimized for Oracle 8i
    TurboLinux Inc.
    Brisbane, Calif.
    TurboLinux Workstation Pro 6.1Pros: Enterprise-ready; includes multiple development tools, StarOffice 5.2, IBM HomePage Builder and TurboTools for quick configuring of networks and printersCons: Limited third-party vendor support$80
    TurboLinux Server 6.0Pros: Includes a firewall system, the Mail, Internet/Web Developer system and an Internet-Intranet system; has multiple Web and e-commerce tools; used the Gnome desktop set; includes RAD tools, security tools and network diagnosticsCons: Limited thrid-party vendor support$199
    TurboLinux OS for AlphaPros: Supports all major Alpha input-output systems; has a full suite of Internet development tools and an e-commerce developers took kit, and is easy to set upCons: Limited third-party vendor support$50

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