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Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison: Included With Core OS

From the perspective of what is included with the core operating system, application availability is somewhat reversed. Windows NT servers come with Windows file and print services built in and DNS and DHCP are included with the TCP/IP networking. The Windows NT Option Pack included a versatile but bug plagued web server, IIS, a flexible FTP server, and some additional components. Windows 2000 Server appears to include most of the standard TPC/IP servers but I've been unable to find a list from Microsoft so there is no way to know just what Windows 2000 Server includes.

With open source operating systems, anything that is included on the distribution CDs is nominally part of the OS. As there is typically no charge for the software, what any distributor chooses to put on a disk becomes a packaging decision. One distributor may wish to simplify installation by keeping it to a single CD. Another may wish to increase options and include multiple CDs. A distributor may create multiple packages, with different sets of disks and prices. Red Hat Linux 7.1 includes two base disks and up to five additional CD-ROMs. Much of, but not all of, what is included on those disks is open source and free. The basic OpenBSD and Red Hat server installs include all the standard TCP/IP servers in the installation, even though many of the less used are turned off, as they should be, by default.

Microsoft makes a big deal about how much is included with their servers, but many of the services provided by Microsoft Windows servers, provide support for only Microsoft's own proprietary standards, which if used, pull you into an every tighter embrace with Microsoft technology, that becomes increasingly difficult to free yourself from. Even in the most basic OpenBSD or any Linux install, more standard Internet servers are included, than any version Windows NT Server install. Without a list from Microsoft there is no way of knowing what is included with Windows 2000. It's clearly a lot more than NT but seems unlikely to be "complete". In particular both telnet and SSH clients and servers are included with both OpenBSD and Linux; these allow full and with SSH, secure, remote control of any UNIX server.

Even support for Microsoft file and print sharing is readily available with both Linux and OpenBSD. Such services really are not appropriate on most Internet connected servers, surely not public Internet (web, FTP, mail, DNS) servers but are obviously needed on internal LAN segments, if the desktop environment is Windows. For dedicated Windows file and print servers, Windows servers may be a better choice than open source systems running Samba (Windows SMB emulation), though such machines certainly can provide Windows file and print services to Windows clients.

As evidenced by the up to seven Red Hat disks, what might be regarded part of an open source operating system, can be nothing other than someone's packaging choice. For open source operating system, it's worth considering what applications, here specifically meaning server type applications are available as part of the price of the operating system. As open source operating systems are free, one might say that any free software that runs on the OS is part of it. Of course there are open source products that run on Windows and other commercial operating systems, but most significant open source applications are developed first on the open source operating systems. The commercial counterparts are often ported versions of the products first created on open source systems.

Open Source Applications

Some examples of open source applications are the NTP protocol and the Apache web server. Network Time Protocol (NTP) is a complex time protocol to accurately synchronize computers to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Perhaps the only complete open source (free) implementation of the entire protocol is the ntpd server written by David Mills and others at the University of Delaware. This compiles cleanly on all the UNIX like open source systems and most commercial UNIXs. It's been ported to Windows but the Windows version is almost two years older than the most recent UNIX version. There are few if any functional changes, but bug fixes have been made in the UNIX versions, that haven't gotten to the Windows version. The fully functional ported version runs only on Windows NT and 2000 (not 9x), and relies on the same, very un-Windows-like, configuration file that the UNIX versions uses. There are dozens of mostly free, including some open source products, that implement a subset of NTP capabilities on Windows. Some are client only and some include limited server capabilities. There are also commercial products costing hundreds of dollars or more, that appear to do the same thing, but add a GUI management interface and additional feature lists of unknown value.

Apache is the most widely used web server, because it provides the most functionality, and any functions not wanted or needed, can be disabled, or removed entirely and easily. In addition to an API (IIS includes an API) Apache has an open architecture that supports modules. Modules allow Apache's functionality to be extended in almost any direction, and don't require programming skills to be used. The Windows version of Apache is generally somewhat behind the UNIX versions, and lacking in some of the more recently developed capabilities.

A tiny sampling of open source applications, development tools and infrastructure enhancements, includes the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, PHP, a competitor to ASP and ColdFusion, SNORT intrusion detection, Perl and Python scripting languages, web traffic analysis packages including Analog, Beowolf clustering, several high quality firewalls, GIMP a "free software replacement for Photoshop," StarOffice or its OpenOffice counterpart that can reasonably be considered a competitor to Microsoft Office, Ghostscript which views, prints and converts PostScript files allowing them to printed on non PostScript printers, and Junit, an automated software tester. is a major repository for open source applications and perhaps gives the best overview of what's going on in the field. Unquestionably most open source development has been "backend" projects such as operating systems, development languages and tools, communications and security as opposed to "front end" business applications. This can be seen in reviewing some SourceForge categories. For example the Office/Business category only lists three subcategories: Financial (246 projects), Office Suites (45 projects), and Scheduling (174) projects). The three most active "Financial" projects are CasualStaffHR ("management of casual staff ") , openHBCI ("easy access to German credit institutes") and QuantLib ("A C++ library for financial quantitative analysts and developers"). Only 5 "Financial" projects rank in the top 50% of SourceForge projects and none ranks higher than 83%. (These percentages appear to be based on download activity compared to all other SourceForge projects which total approximately 24,000.) You can get a good free database, MySQL or PostgreSQL suitable for developing just about any kind of custom application. Selections of full featured business applications are limited; see Christopher Browne's Free Software for Business Accounting page for examples.

The "Office Suites" category is even weaker. 45 projects are listed but only 4 are active ranging between 52 and 90%. The top project is AbiWord, a cross platform "full-featured" word processor with MBD Tools, utilities for reading Access databases, second. I have not looked at AbiWord, but to date the only office productivity suite that can reasonably claim to compete against Microsoft Office is the StarOffice / OpenOffice suite backed by Sun. Other suites, such as Koffice, which like StarOffice is not hosted at SorceForge, have the major applications but simply are not up to professional standards.

The "Scheduling" category does much better with 174 projects including 5 projects in the top 90%. Two are multi function web based groupware with combinations of e-mail, address books, calendars, task lists, and document sharing. One is web calendering only.

All the really large open source projects, Linux, each of the BSD family of OSs, Apache, Perl, PHP, etc. have at least one organization and independent web site behind it and many of these have several and at least one, Linux, has many web sites focused on it.

A listing of all SourceForge top categories and project counts (from August 2001) gives a good picture of strengths and emphases open source: Internet (4190), System (3483), Software Development (2937), Communications (2869), Games/Entertainment (2643), Multimedia (2228), Scientific/Engineering (1384), Database (1105), Office/Business (766), Desktop Environment (746), Education (514), Other/Non Listed Topics (513), Security (470), Terminals (123), Text Editors (442). Printing (83), Religion (53), Sociology (35), A look at a second level listing, Communications: Chat (845), Email (648), File Sharing (314), BBS (149), Conferencing (145), Telephony (95), Usenet News (78) Ham Radio (46), Internet Phone (28), FIDO (24), Fax (15), and one third level listing WWW / HTTP under Internet: Dynamic Content (1597), Site Management (656) Indexing/Search (232), HTTP Servers (155), Browsers (132), suggest how rich the choices are in those areas that have been open source's traditional strengths.

Some of these projects, such as the web and Java based ones, are platform neutral. A few are platform specific like a Palm project manager. Though there are unquestionably a significant minority of Windows only, open source projects among those listed, it's a fairly safe bet that the large majority of these projects have been developed on Linux and unless they are platform neutral, will run on Linux with less effort than any other operating system. Beyond that, without spending a great deal of time counting and analyzing, I don't know whether there are more open source products that run directly on OpenBSD or Windows.

For SourceForge the raw numbers are as follows: OS independent - 5780; Windows NT/2000 - 955, Windows 95/98/2000 - 2190, all Windows 4370; OpenBSD - 54, all BSD - 834, Linux - 7157, all POSIX - 11073. Please don't ask me to explain the categories or count discrepancies; these are the categories and numbers SourceForge displays when you choose to browse by Operating System. Window's popularity has resulted in many Windows specific applications but applications developed on Linux or any other UNIX system can usually be ported to OpenBSD easily but to Windows only with significant effort. Without knowing the details of the project, there is absolutely no way of knowing in advance whether a project listed simply as Linux or some other UNIX variant can be compiled and run cleanly on OpenBSD, will require a few minor tweaks or will be a serious programming challenge.

Qualitatively however, I have little doubt that OpenBSD has a significant edge. A few important products, particularly in the security and encryption area, such as OpenSSH and OpenSSL are developed first on OpenBSD and then moved to other systems. OpenSSH is the only open source implementation of SSH, even though there are several others, to have captured a significant share of the SSH market from the commercial versions. Returning to the NTP example, thirty some partial Windows implementations don't make up for a single complete UNIX implementation available as either a binary package (on the OpenBSD distribution disks) or source code that compiles cleanly.

Because Window's largest single advantage is the huge number of applications developed for Windows, it is a significant advantage for Microsoft, if it's difficult to port a Windows application to another operating system. Microsoft has repeatedly made system design decisions that make little or no technical sense but make excellent business sense in that they make it more difficult, i.e., expensive, for a software developer to port a Windows application to other operating systems. This is one of the key concepts, referred to as "the applications barrier to entry" in Judge Jackson's Findings of Fact in the US v. Microsoft Naturally these barriers work the other direction as well, so that in those areas where there are more applications on other operating systems, open source being one, it's harder to move these to Windows than almost any other platform.

Thus Windows versions of UNIX built open source products, tend to be more command line and text oriented than typical Windows projects and or lag behind the UNIX counterparts. Many open source developers are actively anti-Microsoft or anti-Windows and won't port their code to Windows. When this happens, independent Windows developers are likely to make use of the open source. In these cases they have no obligation, or even incentive to keep the derived product similar to the parent. Various windows developers tend to create a variety of related products that are functional subsets of the UNIX original using Windows management interfaces, creating a multiplicity of incomplete implementations.

So while open source is by no means a UNIX only phenomena, most open source development has been done on UNIX systems, with the UNIX like open source operating systems, Linux and BSD family, playing the leading roles. No systems are in a better position to take full advantage of open source products, especially the full array of development and infrastructure products, than the open source operating systems, themselves.

Thus, it's fair to say, that for the base price of the operating system, free in the case of Linux and OpenBSD, that there are many more products significant to business, available, than on Windows. In many ways the previous discussion about significant versus niche products could be applied to open source applications except here the clear leader is Linux, with OpenBSD a somewhat distant second and Windows last. By some counts there might be more Windows products than OpenBSD if you count each separate "product" that implements some subset of a protocol. There are probably three dozen Windows NTP and SNTP products, each with a different set of GUI widgets to control NTP functions and different sets of helper functions such as built in lists of public time servers or a function to "find" local time servers. Not one of these provides anywhere near the functionality of ntpd on UNIX systems. Exactly the same source .tgz file can be downloaded to both Linux and OpenBSD and compile cleanly on the first attempt.

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