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Choosing the best server OS: Linux vs. Windows comparisons

(Logan G. Harbaugh) In a way, server operating systems are simpler than workstation OSes. They don't need to support as wide a variety of accessories and generally don't need to run as wide a variety of applications. On the other hand, the applications they run, such as databases, Web servers, email servers, collaborative applications and application servers, can stress both the server OS and the hardware. So choosing the best server operating system can be a trial.

Ten years ago, there were two main choices for a server OS running on commodity hardware: Novell's NetWare 4 and Microsoft's Windows NT. Today, Windows 2008 is still a solid choice, and although NetWare has disappeared into history, Novell's version of Linux is a good choice as well: On the proprietary side, the options are much the same as they were 10 years ago: Unix variants that run on proprietary hardware from Sun, IBM, SGI and others.

Choosing the best server operating system depends largely on a server's function. The easiest choice for a file-and-print server that supports Windows clients running Microsoft Office is Windows 2003 or 2008. While it's possible to support Windows file shares and run a server collaboration application that supports Outlook on a Linux server, it's more complex to set up and run smoothly. On the other hand, a file server supporting Linux workstations or an outward-facing Web server or application server is no more difficult to set up on Linux than on Windows and will probably be more secure in the default configuration and less of a pain to maintain over time.

Windows vs. Linux: Installation, maintenance and security
Both Windows and Linux offer pros and cons. Windows is easy to install and run in its default mode, includes an array of drivers for virtually any type of hardware and has the widest variety of software available. On the other hand, it suffers from frequent security problems and requires critical patches that usually involve rebooting. It is also expensive, from the initial purchase price of the OS and applications to the ongoing maintenance required to keep it stable and updated. Linux requires careful consideration of available hardware drivers that are appropriate for your hardware (including the motherboard) and whether newly released hardware (such as Intel i7 motherboards) is supported for. It also requires more knowledge to install and run the OS and applications. But at the same time, Linux is generally more stable and secure than Windows, especially the Enterprise editions available from Red Hat and Novell, which use kernel versions that are long-standing enough to have become completely stable.

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