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In the cloud, Linux will win the OS war

I recently decided to switch from Windows XP to Linux for two reasons. First, after trying to revive an old laptop for simple Web browsing, Windows XP required massive updates, which in turn caused my Wi-Fi connection to stop working.   Second, after two hours of troubleshooting Windows XP, I bailed on the effort and decided to see how easy it would be to blow away XP and replace it with a Linux OS, since my only real goal was to have a “single-use” machine for Web browsing or web searches.

I had undertaken the same experiment five years ago with mixed results due to a complex Linux install process that required exact information on a previous laptop’s make, model and hard drive type, which was followed up by a manual partitioning process and painful install. 

Five years ago, installing Linux on an old laptop was painful.  This time, I installed Fedora on an old Hewlett Packard laptop with no hiccups, no extra information and no manual partitioning.  Linux, you’ve come a long way, baby!  After the install, using the operating system has been fast and intuitive with the Gnome Desktop performing just as well as Windows or MacOS.

A recent article in Fortune magazine entitled “The Dawn of the Chrome Age” highlights the success of the Linux-based OS in the low-cost laptop market.  According to the article, “Over the holidays in 2013, two Chromebook models were the No. 1 and No.3 bestselling laptops on, and they’re being adopted in schools and business around the world.”  Simply put, Chrome OS represents Web apps on top of Linux, and given that the Web has become the leading application development platform – this is significant. 

There are other marquee examples of Linux’s ascendency that are just as important.  Amazon’s Kindle is a set of Java applications on top of Linux.  Android is also a Java VM on top of Linux.  Finally, Valve is bringing video games, a long-time bastion of the Windows platform, to Linux with SteamOS. 

But most important, in relation to the future of enterprise computing, Linux platforms dominate for cloud computing and big data applications.  Why?  For one thing, renting compute servers running Linux is significantly cheaper than the Windows-based alternatives.  For example, on a Windows 2012 Server image with 4GB of RAM and 160GB hard drive is $0.32 an hour, whereas the equivalent Linux platform is $0.24 an hour.  According the Amazon Web Services monthly calculator, the same m1.medium instance is $0.15 for Windows and $0.09 for Linux (these are the prices after Amazon just announced its 42nd price cut).   

Given that the cloud is all about scalability and that running hundreds or thousands of nodes is not uncommon, those pennies add up fast!

So, just as the Web has won the platform war for applications, Linux will win for operating systems.  For applications, you cannot beat the zero-install and zero-upgrade advantages of the Web. And for operating systems, you cannot beat Linux for high reliability at a low cost.

 As pundits have long predicted, given a good Web browser, it does not matter what desktop operating system you run beneath it.  Now, we see the corollary to that position: Given a modern Web architecture on the server side, it does not matter what operating system you run to host it.  And it just so happens that Linux can reliably and cheaply handle both jobs!  In the cloud, that translates to significant cost savings.

Michael C. Daconta ( or @mdaconta) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.

Posted by Michael C. Daconta on May 07, 2014 at 10:08 AM

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Reader Comments

Tue, May 13, 2014 Col. Panek Griffiss AFB

What you need to write now is a serious article on the choice between Windows and Linux for government agencies. There are some big advantages, but some minor (and sometimes major, for some people) disadvantages. But Munich did it. And the French national police. And the ISS. And a lot of others.

Fri, May 9, 2014

But why even consider Linux when all of the Federal Managers (and their contractor lackies) know that Windows is the only TRUE computer system. After all, Bill Gates invented computing when he wrote Windows.

Thu, May 8, 2014 TuxMan

I have been a big proponent of Linux for many years. If you thought Federa with Gnome was good, give Novell's openSUSE with the KDE desktop a try. Fast, pretty, stable and free!

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