Microsoft v/s Linux: Matrix Reloaded

by Hinesh Jethwani & Ankush Sohoni    Sep 01, 2004

With SuSE now officially hitting Indian shores as Novell’s Linux spearhead, Microsoft has another face in the enterprise space to contend with; or does it? Has the matrix changed, or do the rules of the game still remain the same?

In an exclusive with CXOtoday, Abhijit Das, manager, platform strategies, Microsoft Corporation India, talks about Microsoft’s most formidable enemy till date, Linux.

With the SuSE acquisition finally complete, Onward Novell is now actively pushing Linux in India. Does Microsoft sense a potential threat here?

Both Microsoft and Novell can co-exist perfectly well. The challenge that Novell will face is basically from other Linux vendors in the country. We will compete with them on the perimeter. If a consumer has already made up his mind to purchase Linux, Microsoft is automatically out of the equation. Where’s the competition then? The logical answer is that it shifts to the huge number of vendors within the Linux space. There are 309 registered flavors, to the best of my knowledge. It’s the same old Unix story being repeated again.

Novell has a definite edge in the country because it’s been around for ages. If you look back into the past, Netware made it really big on the server front in the nineties. Novell has a structured system in place. They have the customers and the reach. The acquisition will definitely deliver a thrust to SuSE Linux in the country. However you simply cant ignore Red Hat. They started as a Linux company, and have managed to pull it off so far. Novell will now possibly need to rework its Netware expertise by retraining manpower to take on the Linux market. Red Hat has been around since the beginning, so obviously they have their cards well placed already.

Honestly, if Microsoft India had to pick one Linux vendor to compete with, which one would make it to the top of the list?

Microsoft India is competing with the Linux front in general. We wouldn’t like to single out any particular vendor. However, all said and done, Novell looks pretty formidable with its branding and reach in the market.

The latest Yankee Group report, Linux, Unix and Windows TCO Comparison, Part 2, advises corporations to delay a Linux migration until they can satisfactorily discover how it can deliver tangible technology benefits, better ROI and improve TCO. Your comments?

Costs and security risks can be the only compelling reasons for an organization to switch platforms, in situations where current implementations are doing well. However, a miniscule audience does have a passion to experiment with different options. Ultimately, consumers must realize that Linux is not easy on the pocket — whether it’s a $799 Red Hat box or a $999 SuSE server, everything costs. The software may be free, but the services aren’t. The challenge becomes particularly immense in a country like India, where support hasn’t yet made inroads to remote locations. Take the example of large-scale organizations that use Linux in the country. Enterprises simply do not realize the fact that linear growth will imply scalability, which will make Linux support a key expenditure to contend with in the interior regions of the country.

The main reason for higher TCOs is mindless shifting and buying that introduces the complexities of retraining. Why should anyone incur these additional costs? Enterprises should steer clear of unnecessary migration headaches for obvious reasons.

A widely debated fact is that Linux is more secure than Windows. Your take?

Consider some simple statistics. There’s one world, one Microsoft. Lets take a look at the other side: 309 flavors of Linux, all running the same basic kernel, but structured differently with disparate apps integrated together. Do you think it’s easy for virus authors to target all of them? Microsoft’s massive installed base is what makes it the most vulnerable. Hackers love to single out Windows desktops, simply because it’s a bigger prize. It’s all about numbers.

A recent research conducted by Forrester has dispelled the common notion that drives people to give Microsoft a bad rap for security, and lead them to believe that Linux is more secure in comparison. The analysis shows that Windows is more secure than four key Linux distributions (MandrakeSoft, Debian, SuSE and Red Hat). Microsoft demonstrated the lowest average “all days of risk,” (25 days between disclosure and release of a fix to be exact), which was the lowest of all the platform maintainers evaluated.

The research concludes that if you want security updates as quickly as possible, go for Debian or Microsoft. For balance security with installation ease, go with MandrakeSoft, Microsoft, or SUSE. To maximize security and operator ease, look at Microsoft or Red Hat. Look at the results here. Microsoft makes it to all three results. There’s simply no argument.

To conclude, I can only say that risks will always remain. It’s just a matter of putting tighter controls on processes to keep them in check.

Novell has also announced the release of SuSE Linux desktop to follow up Sun’s JDS launch (Also based on the SuSE OS). Besides, there are already several options available from different vendors on the desktop front. Do you think that Microsoft’s desktop hold is in danger?

The bottom line is that you cannot control the buying disparity of today’s price-conscious users. How can you guarantee that these Linux desktops available in the market will support every hardware box under the sun? You cannot dictate terms to the end-user segment by imposing limitations on hardware compatibility. It just doesn’t work that way. If somebody wants to purchase a low-cost, relatively unheard of printer model, non-availability of driver support cannot press him into looking for something else. That’s where we score. No one can match the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that Microsoft has achieved for its desktop products.

Lets do the math again. Sun’s JDS (that includes StarOffice) with a software assurance agreement would roughly work out to the same as Windows XP+MS Office 2003 without SA. Which one would you pick? The choice is pretty obvious.

Our Conclusion: Its safe to conclude that the introduction of a Linux flavor by an established player with a ’power brand’ reputation will definitely cause some friction in the already overpopulated enterprise space. More players will imply a wider choice arena and stretchy bargain-able tariffs. Let the games begin!