The Linux and Mac operating systems fill a relative niche in the world of technology, yet that has never stopped loyal followers of either platform from being a very vocal minority Quixotically tilting at windmills and proudly asserting the superiority of their given OS.
Although they've both been around for decades, Linux and Mac combined make up less than ten percent of the overall operating system market. Steve Ballmer recently underscored this simple fact, telling an audience that "ninety-five percent of the world's computers run Windows. They don't run Mac, they don't run Linux."
Market share alone does not make an OS better. Many arguably superior technologies have lost the marketing war and faded to oblivion. However, Katherine Noyes--a PCWorld peer of mine and Linux aficionado--makes the bold claim that Windows is bad for business. Sheer market share aside, there are a number of reasons that Microsoft Windows is undeniably good for business.
1. Cost. Yes, Linux is open source and available for "free". I just downloaded the latest release of Ubuntu Linux without spending a dime. However, Linux in general--and specifically Linux in a business environment--is a prime example of "you get what you pay for."
First of all, if a business wants any support for the platform, it must get Linux with a support agreement...for a fee. Second of all, the cost of the actual operating system is a mere fraction of the total cost of ownership. Operating systems and software have to be deployed, monitored, maintained, supported, updated, patched, and protected. Microsoft Windows has the tools and infrastructure necessary to accomplish these tasks across 100 or 10,000 PCs efficiently and cost-effectively.
2. Productivity. Windows, in particular Windows 7 with Windows Server 2008, has features such as DirectAcess and BranchCache that greatly enhance connectivity and productivity on remote systems whether they are located in a satellite office across the country, or connecting from a coffee shop on the other side of the world. The time and frustration normally invested in VPN and remote access connections affects productivity and has a real-world impact on business.
3. Management. This was already mentioned as a function of cost, but its worth mentioning again. Most of the tit-for-tat comparisons made regarding Linux or Mac OS X vs. Windows are based on a head-to-head match between individual systems. But, businesses many systems--hundreds, or maybe thousands or tens of thousands.
It isn't enough for a given platform to have a unique feature or incremental performance boost over another. IT admins need a desktop OS culture that can be easily monitored and maintained across a high volume of systems no matter where they are located.
4. Compliance. Depending on the business, IT admins have to address and comply with a variety of regulatory and industry mandates: SOX, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GLBA, BASEL-II--you name it. Windows provide tools like BitLocker to encrypt data stored on the hard drive, and BitLocker-to-Go to encrypt data on removable media, and AppLocker to restrict which software can run on the platform to those designated on the white list.
I have no doubt that there are similar tools available for either Linux or Mac OS X. However, IT admins don't just need tools that work on the individual systems, they need solutions that can be configured, maintained, and monitored across the infrastructure on systems both local and remote. Microsoft provides such a framework, and it is the framework that IT admins and end-users are most familiar with.
5. Software. How many of the software applications that businesses rely on--whether commercial, off-the-shelf applications, or custom software developed in-house--runs on Linux or Mac? Buehler? Anyone?
Even if a business finds equivalent software to use on a Linux system, will it connect to and function seamlessly with the other business-critical applications? There is a cascading domino-effect associated with software decisions that has an impact beyond the software application itself.
I don't question that it is possible to find or develop an alternative capable of filling the same role on other OS platforms. I question, though, the business value of swimming upstream and making every software decision more complicated than it has to be.
I won't even go into the monoculture or security fallacies that Linux and Mac OS X loyalists cling to. I will simply point to a post from Marcus Ranum from years ago explaining the false logic of the monoculture argument, and reiterate that despite all desperate claims to the contrary Linux and Mac OS X are both vulnerable as well and that the reason Microsoft is the prime target is a function of its market share more than the underlying security of the operating system itself.
To some extent, operating system preference is equivalent to religion. Arguing that one religion is "better" because it has twenty times more followers falls on deaf ears. The five percent that follow the smaller faith are still absolutely positive that it's not just the best, but the "right" one.
Thankfully, it's simple to illustrate the benefits of the Windows operating system for businesses without even getting into a discussion over whether Windows is better or worse than Linux or Mac OS X on any technical level, and the reality is that Windows is indisputably the best operating system for business.
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