Home > Rumors > A Strategic Comparison of Windows vs. Unix, Version 2.0 A Strategic Comparison of Windows vs. Unix, Version 2.0 Eugenia Loli 2003-02-27 Rumors 24 Comments Murphy’s October 2001 TCO analysis generated much reader comment. In this article, the first installment in a two-part series, he revisits the Linux-versus-Windows decision for the faculty of a small college or university. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 24 Comments 2003-02-27 7:33 am This article is well thought out but it like most articles of this type it makes assumptions that in favor of linux that I really don’t think are truly accurate. First of all, there are so many complaints of all windows labs why would we just switch over to all linux labs. Isn’t that the point of choice? At the University of Texas (where I am a student) the main library has about half the machines on windows XP provided by dell and the other half are PowerMac towers running OS9. An interesting observation though. the windows machines are the first to be reserved and they are almost always full. However you can almost always get a free Mac. If the lab was populated by usage then it should really be 70% windows and 30% macs because that’s about how it turns out. I think that mixed environments are good. The problem for linux is that given a mixed environment with perhaps say Mac machines, Windows machines, and linux machines where will students go? I think we all know that they will still use the Windows machines. They all have windows at home, they all know windows. Why would we force them to use Linux if they really don’t want to? I say that they really don’t want to based on the fact that they don’t really want to use the Mac’s either. The monopoly strikes again but what can be done about it? Forcing students to use Unix terminals is a solution but is that the best solution? To the sysadmins it would be but for the students? who knows. Now let’s move down 3 blocks at my University into the Electrical Engineering computer labs (EE fo’ life yo I hate to admit this but unix literacy among EE undergrads is pretty pathetic. All engineers know that real work gets done on Unix but for undergrads at our university it really isn’t an issue. There are 3 rooms full of windows 2000 computers provided by dell for the undergrads. The intro labs all use these labs and most of the programming courses use the labs too. Metroworks being the c++ compiler the faculty has standardized on. What would happen if we loaded Linux on all of these undergrad computers? The TA’s and the teachers would practically spend all their time teaching the undergrads how to use the computers instead of teaching them the course material. That is a waste of time and money. We aren’t talking about surfing the internet and checking email here, we are talking about utilizing engineering programs like MATLAB and Labview and SPICE. It’s hard enough for them to learn to use these programs but in addition we have to teach them about the Unix way of doing things? For better or worse, windows is what students know and all students want to do is finish as quick as possible with the least amount of hassle. anyways once you go to the Grad lab it gets better. We have 20 or so Sun think clients linked to our main EE server which is a Sunfire. However these servers are mainly used for VLSI classes and simulations for the undergrads. If they are not in that class then NO ONE uses the Sun computers. There are Dell linux boxes in the lab also. Those routinely see more use because afterall there are linux users in the EE department. This is however still a minority usage and this is in the Electrical engineering department! Now comparing the University of Texas’ (the largest university in the USA) needs to a small college like in the article is silly but many of the questions are still valid. Is a total switch to the Unix way possible for students? Is forcing them to relearn Unix a good goal? For engineers I would argue for it but for the general population? TCO and money figures are one thing but people are another. Articles like this are great on the finance side but not so great on the people side. One last comment that I must make is in regard to the supposed “At home” computer. Gimme a break man. Linux at home? perhaps someone forgot the other thing that college students do nowadays. Play games. Massively multiplayer games. Violent First person games. No college student is gonna dick around with getting games to work on linux. 2003-02-27 8:02 am Well,- I suggest wecompare Babya System 11.4 to Mac OS Clasic: http://pics.paulsonator.com/users/BabyaSoftwareGroup/sys114.jpg and http://fileforum.betanews.com/detail.php3?fid=1042775383 Post your xomparisons in the forums section. 2003-02-27 8:03 am Funny enough, I was about to comment and then realized we goto the same school. Are you in CS/EE? Off to sleep! G 2003-02-27 9:57 am At texas A&M, the lab situation is the same. the windows machines are always busy. the Macs get some use, but you can always get one. And if you need any unix applications there are plenty of unix servers around to connect to and use from windows. I dont see why switch to linux when the the main “desktop” applications people use arent there. The only use we have for unix in my department is for certain specific applications and major server duties. I doubt a college is going to throw out hundreds of pcs and replace them with a system unkown and obscure to most users. 2003-02-27 10:04 am I think what all these comparisons miss is the intended use. In the school setting, games don’t matter. If you are trying to get work done, the important thing is functionality, followed by cost. In this case, I think Linux is the correct tool. If the school is public, Windows should not even be in the running since taxpayer dollars are wasted for little or no improvement in learning. Lets face it, once you learn the mouse, using a damn “File” menu is the same in any program on any OS. Teaching one app is a waste of time. Teaching students to think is a much better investment. All office suites work in much the same way, with only the menus and buttons moved. If students can’t adapt, the school system has failed. For home, Windows might be a good choice since games are more readily available, although an X-Box, PS2 or GameCube might be a better choice and even easier to use. Try renting a game for Windows, it ain’t gonna happen. I’ve had no problems installing the Quake and Unreal series of games (the only COMPUTER games I play) and I use only Linux on my systems. I won’t try to force anyone into Linux, but then again I don’t force Mac or Windows on anyone either. Once Linux is installed, it is a fine home OS. What most people forget is that Windows has built a great deal of common knowledge amongst users which gives the false impression of being vastly easier. Mutiny 2003-02-27 10:46 am I nhave used a mac-easy to use-it’s clarisworjis better tha say Staroffice. Well,- I suggest we compare Babya System 11.4 to Mac OS Clasic/linux: http://pics.paulsonator.com/users/BabyaSoftwareGroup/sys114.jpg and http:/ /fileforum.betanews.com/detail.php3?fid=1042775383 Post your comparisons in the os forums section-so I can write uup a artidle for my site. 2003-02-27 2:29 pm To top off the big three in Texas, I go to Texas Tech. Up until about a month ago I had a job doing free tech support for students living in the dorms. I’m amazed at what passes for computer literacy. Almost every student can handle the the Windows way when it comes to the basics (Internet, e-mail, MS Word), but when anything unexpected pops up, they have no idea what to do. Most students see alert windows, virus or anything else, and click out of it. They don’t even look to see what just happened. You have no idea how many times I’ve uninstalled Bonzai Buddy and Gator. The main computer lab on campus has a small collection of Macs running OS 9 and about 10 new eMacs running X. Everything else in the building is Windows 2000. The OS 9 machines are almost always completely open. I’ve never seen anyone on the eMacs. (Which is understandable since the trained monkey they hired to set them up did a crappy job.) I’ve heard the engineering lab has half Win2k and half RedHat. I’m willing to learn *NIX, but I most of the students I’ve dealt with can’t handle Windows very well. There is no point in confusing them more. 2003-02-27 4:21 pm At mit, most students have their own windows/mac computer, but 90% of teh computers that mit provides for usage run linux/solaris. Several specific classes use windows computers (physics e&m for example) but all the main labs are purely athena (mit’s client/server). The end result is that by the end of their freshmen year, almost all students know how to find their way around a unix command-prompt and to tell if they’re on a sun box or a dell (the x86 machines are all dell/ibm). Any athena workstation is of course installed with gnome, mozilla, staroffice and a slew of more specific applications, including matlab and mathematica. If you take 6.001, the intruductory programming class, you learn emacs very quickly. The result is that almost every student leaves mit with the ability to sit down at at least a similarly configured unix machine and immediately get work done. 2003-02-27 4:38 pm MIT != UT although I don’t want to sell short the “quality” of students at UT, getting 50,000+ students and staff to learn their way around a unix command-prompt is something that the University really doesn’t want to do. And from being there on the front line help desk, it’s something I don’t want to entertain. also I must bring up another point. Cost savings calcuated for running linux for the students at home really aren’t much of a big deal. Since UT is such a big school microsoft gives massive discounts. to wit. Windows XP and 2000 cost 5 dollars. Microsoft word costs 5 dollars. So if you wanted the full office you’d just spend 5 bucks each for the applications totalling a whopping 25 dollars. Makes the upfront cost argument that much harder. 2003-02-27 4:49 pm as an addendum, Mac OS X is not discounted as much. I don’t own a mac (or know how to use one for that matter) but the discount is only 50% of the price which puts it around 70 bucks. I dunno what apple’s educational plan is but if they want more Mac OS X usage in the school labs then they should encourage the usage with the students. But perhaps the usage of mac’s in the dorms is so minimal it doesn’t really make a difference also we just can’t factor out the Bill argument. in UT’s situation unlike the article’s situation there is a lot more at stake than a couple of work stations. IF you think that the largest university in the US is going to switch over to all linux in the heart of Dell country without Microsoft intervening then you are crazy. big bill is going to bring the calvary in. If dell had the balls to offer linux computers widespread to the university things would be different 2003-02-27 4:55 pm “Since UT is such a big school microsoft gives massive discounts” I doubt MS would be doing this if they weren’t worried about Linux or Mac. Even those who are perfectly happy with Windows should be thankful to the competitors for keeping MS from charging students high prices. 2003-02-27 4:57 pm >>Why would we force them to use Linux if they really don’t want to? To save money on licensing costs, so the college can put that money into other things besides Microsoft’s pocket. 2003-02-27 5:04 pm bah! In my portuguese university, wich by MIT standarts should be crappy, we have both, since we need to learn how to programm in both unix and windows, We start the hard way with c++ and unix and then move up to windows and vb. My 5th year final project is a vba app that draws highways in autocad using data tables in excel, but i had to do strange stuff like calculating the size of bacteria in a .ppm pic using c and linux. 2003-02-27 5:09 pm I’m not sure where all this talk about the command prompt being a problem for students is coming from. I teach at a University (and was a student very recently). I use both Mandrake and Win98, so I can find my way around the c-prompt, but I rarely need to. In fact, the only time I need to do it is when I’m configuring my system. Other than that, my box is purely a workstation: click-and-go. Students in computer labs aren’t configuring systems (they’d better not be!); they’re there to surf the ‘net, write a paper, monkey with a spreadsheet, or do some simple graphics…all of which can be accessed via the mouse. A good Linux GUI would be just as functional in a computer bay/lab as Windows/Mac because it’s visually presenting the very same information (i.e., “here’s the word processor,” “here’s the browser,” etc). Note that this scenario is NOT the same as running a Linux box at home, where the user WILL be responsible for sys configs. Lab boxes are there just to be used; home boxes need more knowledge and care by the user. 2003-02-27 5:11 pm “>>Why would we force them to use Linux if they really don’t want to? To save money on licensing costs, so the college can put that money into other things besides Microsoft’s pocket.” Precisely. 2003-02-27 5:16 pm Your comment evokes an immense sense of deja vu, I am sure I have read > 6 months ago. I am sure that I have read an article which is very similar to your post, does anyone know what I am talking about. Obviously I could be just imagining it. 2003-02-27 5:55 pm >>Why would we force them to use Linux if they really don’t want to? I don’t like the word “force,” but these are young people, who are still in a state of creative development. I know a so-called “computer expert” who was amazed when I told him (in the mid ’90s) that I could put the whole directory listing (the long version!) from my notebook into a single environment varialbe, without getting such messages as “out of environment space,” and then use that variable for things. And this guy claimed himself to be a geek, and a computer expert. He still hasn’t even been willing to take the time to install Linux on anything. I figured it’s because he’s grown, has kids, and has a life. The time to introduce people to *alternative* ways of doing things is when they’re in school. It gets a lot harder to do later on. Me, I’m a natural explorer, and I’m also not interested in getting money ripped out of my wallet. If I can do powerful things with a computer without paying massive tolls for it, I will. But most people have no idea what they can do with one; the time to tell them about it is when they’re in a good position to learn. And also, what about the social position you put people in by subjecting them to a monopoly for the rest of their lives. The computer industry would be a good place to break people of this, no? At least knowing what the effect of these monopolies is having would be a good start for a political-science student, no? 2003-02-27 6:01 pm “What would happen if we loaded Linux on all of these undergrad computers? The TA’s and the teachers would practically spend all their time teaching the undergrads how to use the computers instead of teaching them the course material.” Can you find someone who can corroberate this statement who ran an engineering lab *before* the Microsoft Monopoly(tm)? It’s a bit hard, but it’s not *that* hard! Especially nowadays…. 2003-02-27 6:39 pm also I must bring up another point. Cost savings calcuated for running linux for the students at home really aren’t much of a big deal. Since UT is such a big school microsoft gives massive discounts. to wit. Windows XP and 2000 cost 5 dollars. Microsoft word costs 5 dollars. So if you wanted the full office you’d just spend 5 bucks each for the applications totalling a whopping 25 dollars. Makes the upfront cost argument that much harder. Wow, if we saw this large a rebate here in Denmark, i would be out there arguing that microsoft should be banned from all public computers. What a great way to strengthen your monopoly. Make absolutely sure that all students use your products. I do think student rebates is a good thing, but within limit. Totally dumping the price of a product will always be easier for the company with the most money in the bank. In the case above i will not really call it rebates though, but call it sponsorship, which i personally think should be banned in all forms in school system. Why? Because i think it is important that the students are taught to think for themselves and make their own decisions, which is quite incompatible with companies trying to charm them from the start with dirt cheap products. And if linux can be proved to be cheaper than windows (looking at both license cost and cost of administration), then i do think our school system should adapt it. Same with the mac, but i cant see how the mac workstations could ever be cheaper unless they would dump the price, which i again think should be illegal. 2003-02-27 7:03 pm The Cornell Theory Center is entirely Dell/Unisys/Microsoft/Intel… http://www.ctc-hpc.com/casestudies.html http://www.tc.cornell.edu/ Their Windows 2000 cluster is the 88th fastest computer in the world… http://www.top500.org/list/2002/11/ Microsoft and Dell provide the CTC with truckloads of funding, needless to say, but they have proven that they are able to do all of their supercomputing work on Windows. 2003-02-27 7:13 pm Ok well lets through Penn State at the state of texas. Just like vapor22 pointed out on mixed labs it’s the same way here. Most labs are 66-75% windows, and 25-33% macs. Everyone goes for the windows computers. once they are full some may try the macs but there will be a line forming for the windows computers. I don’t think it’s so much people won’t try new things, I think it’s because most tried the macs and got pissed off so fast they went back to stand in line for a windows computer. all the macs here are OS9 (except 6 new imacs in student building) and all the windows machines are winXP (except a few random 2k machines in library’s). People here don’t want to spend tme fussing, they want to get their work done and it’s just easier for them in Windows. There is also some labs with Sun’s in them, but they are almost never used. The Compsci/Comp engr. Students do have a lab to themselves full of suns though, that would probably be the only place they are heavily used. You can’t just switch all these computers over to something else. Besides from the obvious that these computers have tons of windows only software on them, thats been paid for, your going to end up with a ton of pissed of students. Sure going to linux or something might save them some money, but for most that’s not worth the change. Between not having programs they need or the hassel, keaping windows is fine. Also like other mentioned having Windows is cheap for students. Until this year, for a few years you could walk down to the Computer Center and pick up winXP or Office for mac and windows have you, for free. Now they have switched to reduced price i belive. If it’s free to them, then linux makes zero sence. I don’t know where all the lab computers come from, I asume we currently are getting a deal from dell on them since every computer is now a brand new dell. We have lots of macs from a few years back but majority of people dispise them. Maybe if they were faster machine with OSX that would change some. If people won’t use them there is no way they will use linux. on a differant note, do all the schools of UT act as one school? like you start at one and graduate at another, or is it like Univ. Cali schools were they are basicly independant? Untill now I was thinking PSU was the biggest in the country with 82,000 students, (many campuses acting as one school). Unfortently differant schools are structured differantly, I don’t know any that work like PSU. So we continuly get mark as a school 1/2 our real size since people don’t get how it works. Anyways, others here from the big ten need to step up. 2003-02-27 7:15 pm That’s “throw”, not “through”, i know i can’t spell but that was just dumb. 2003-02-27 10:02 pm The 50000 figure I quoted for the school population is just for the University of Texas at Austin. We do have a system quite similar to the UC system in california with satellite schools in most of the major texas cities. but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. The UC system is superior in every way. I use the term “force” very loosely. The same way I would say that UT is “forcing” students to use windows, which in fact they are by NOT offering linux as an alternative. But it’s trickier than that mainly because it wouldn’t really be forcing the students to use windows because that is the only thing they really know. As for the licensing comment, that is very very true. We could be using the money from licensing to spend elsewhere. But then again UT bought a volume educational license. So they can burn as many copies of windows as they need to. In fact if you were to goto the campus store right now and pay them 5 bucks you’d in essence get a stamped UT CD not a holographic shiny retail or OEM one. So the effect for students is that licensing costs are transparent. And the same goes for the staff if they choose to buy it for their own computers. The labs are all Dell and the license is factored into the cost of the computer. So discounted computers plus discounted microsoft operating systems makes it a hard sell for linux to replace the labs. These kind of discounts were put into place a couple of years before microsoft even acknowledged that linux was a threat. Whether linux or unix motivated microsoft to offer these discounts that early can be debated. now I hope i didn’t scare people away with the whole Dell/microsoft lockdown. The truth is that the linux community is flourishing at UT. We have a LUG named Siglinux or sigfree or sigGNU or whatever (yes RMS was involved) they regularly hold install fests where students and staff and really anyone can bring their computer in to get a distro installed. Also the Mac user group at the university is showing signs of life after a 1 year hiatus. MacOS X is quickly gaining ground in the EE department. I must admit that X11 server for MacOS X is probably the coolest thing i’ve ever seen. if only the hardware were cheaper… 2003-02-28 7:02 pm At my alma mater, Stockholm U, I don’t encounter computers much. They’re not of much use at my department, unless you’re taking the computer linguistics course. However, the Asian library has a dozen, most of which are P200 DELLs running some flavour of Windows NT which takes forever to start, and the rest of which are old PowerMac 4400s. Naturally, the Windows machines see the most use, but that doesn’t surprise me. Even I go for the Win machines, since the administator knows about as much about Macs as my grandmother. He at least had the (lack of) sense to install AtEase, which means that the environment is infinitely restricted compared to the Windows PCs. To add insult to injury, they’re set up with eight-bit graphics, which makes web browsing slow and ugly. And they just operate absymally slowly. Given a better admin, they might be a bit more useful. Then there’s the new public access computer area set up by the student corps, populated by new DELL (what else?) machines dual-booting into Windows and Linux. Funnily, Linux sees equal use, and this at a part of the university with few technical institutions. KDE or Windows is no great deal when you’re just sitting down to browse the web or write a document, so people just seem to work with whatever is loaded at the moment. There are sufficient instructions provided for people to get accustomed to KDE, though I’d have spent some more effort on the configuration of the environment. OTOH, it’s not administered by utter incompetents, though no money is saved here since all stations are dual-booting. The technically oriented institutions seem to be running just about anything. I’ve spotted Macs and PCs as well as old HP workstations. Meanwhile, the royal polytechnic is a traditional SUN stronghold, running lots of Blades and what have you. Naturally, other workstations have their place, as well as Linux and WinNT. The non-central CS locations seem to be more Windows and Linux oriented, though. As for my place of study in Japan, Keio U in Tokyo, they’re an all-Windows shop. No CS here, though. The basement is stuffed with SUN gear, but the end user is always greeted by NT boxes running across the network. They work quite fine, really. There are some UNIX workstations hidden somewhere, but you have to pay for access to those, and they’re really well-hidden.