Enterprise Servers: Windows vs. Linux

In the following comparison, I chose the most cost effective solution, in terms of Cost of Ownership, to compare with Microsoft Windows Small Business Server. Note that most every version of UNIX supports all of the functionality shown below for Linux, but not all of them are available free (either as in "Free beer" or as in "Free speech") or with all of the features required by this comparison without additional software.
Also note that the two most prevalent Internet server solutions available are UNIX and Windows. While there are other OS's that are used "on the Internet", most of these are scarce and not widely supported, so the question becomes "Linux or Windows?". If a UNIX solution is chosen, a new question arises: Which version of UNIX?. The answer to this usually comes from answering the questions "Which version of UNIX does our specific application not support?", and "Which version will be the most cost effective?"
The following comparison does not take into account specific applications, only the web server, network server, and database server ability of the two solutions.
A very special thanks to the Kernel Panic Linux Users Group (KPLUG) for helping with both the Windows and Linux/UNIX references and information used to generate this report. (BIAS DISCLAIMER: KPLUG consists of UNIX/Linux system administrators and users as well as Windows system administrators and users who hopefully aided in an honest comparison of the two solutions outlined here.)
UPDATE: I have changed this page from its initial version from "NT vs. UNIX" to "Windows vs. Linux". In addition, I am attempting to keep it as up to date as possible. If ANY discrepancies are found, please don't hesitate to contact me at pgallen@randomlogic.com.











Base OS and services

$2,498 (1)

$2,499 and under (FREE if D/L and using online docs.) (1)

Includes: Web server, Mail server, SQL server, DNS, Proxy server, misc. services and documentation. Basically a complete solution.


Est. $2,498


Based upon the requirement to purchase a new version of Windows, or an upgrade, and associated services when it(they) is(are) released.

Scalability (Clients):




SQL Databases

10GB maximum database size/database




25 maximum


Based upon the initial Microsoft license purchase.

Additional cost/client license



Actual client licensing costs vary between Microsoft customers, but none of them are inexpensive.





File/Print services




Application server



This category maintains that a user may remotely run any application on a Linux server as he/she were seated at that server. Not possible on Windows operating systems.

Client/Server GUI services



X Windows applications may have their display exported to another machine

Flat file system



Windows file systems are limited by PC hardware constraints and the old DOS architecture making new HDD additions a nightmare for administrators and (more often) clients.

Journaling file system



Linux journaling file systems include XFS, ext3, Rieserfs, and others. UNIX journaling file systems exist for many UNIX platforms.

Task scheduling



Linux scheduling uses cron which is more advanced and stable than the Windows Task Scheduler.

Scripting languages (automated administration)



All shells in Linux support this: Perl, Python, awk, korn, sh, bash, etc.

NFS support

Extra, $149/server

Yes, Included FREE

 In addition, Linux supports the newer GFS system.

CIFS services



Samba has been tested to be the fastest NT file server ever.(2)

Loadable device modules



Windows must be rebooted to change many configurations/add new devices. Linux need not be rebooted due to loadable device modules.




Based upon real world experience and various articles from the Internet (2)


Often, on average once/week

1 yr. average

Windows can crash for a myriad of reasons too many to list. Linux/UNIX generally only crashes when the user does something bad or the hardware fails.

Virus susceptibility:



Rated as a vulnerability scale: Extremely - Moderately - Fairly - None. Also note that the common virus utilities such as Norton Anti-Virus do not exist for Linux - there has been no apparent need for them.

Macro Viruses


None Known to the author

Macro Viruses are those that are designed to target applications that use Macro Languages such as Microsoft Word. These languages and language architectures do not yet exist on the Linux platform.

Internet Viruses


None Known to the author

Any Internet connected computer is subject to a number of different types of intrusions, but a properly configured Linux system is far less susceptible to Internet type viruses.

DOS Viruses




Other Viruses

Extremely to Moderate

Fairly to none


GUI failures causing a need to reboot

Yes, quite often

Yes, but extremely rare

Note that on a Linux system, there is no need to run X Windows on the server, eliminating any GUI related reliability issues.

Crashes cause need to reinstall the OS


Extremely rare

In the case of a serious crash, the Linux kernel can be booted and repaired from a floppy with little to no loss to system functionality. Windows must be reinstalled from the CD with total loss of functionality in many cases.

System Management:




GUI Based



GUI configuration utilities are provided but need not be used. GUI configuration utilities are limited in what they can do.

CLI Based



If you don't use an available GUI config. Tool, CLI can be used for Linux/UNIX. Windows CLI admin. support is almost non-existent.

Config files human readable



All Linux/UNIX configuration files are human readable and may be edited with a text editor. (Password files are an exception, but removing passwords can be accomplished using a text editor)

Single config. file



The Windows Registry is (a) a single point of failure, (b) difficult to back up, (c) limited in what it can do, d) can quickly grow to unmaintainable size. Linux/UNIX multiple text config. files are quite the opposite in all respects. The drawback of the Linux/UNIX model is the requirement the admin. Having to edit multiple files to change some configuration items.

Remote management

Sometimes (with Terminal Services or third party software)


Windows remote management is limited. Linux/UNIX remote management ability is (generally) fully configurable.

System Updates

Must reboot

Reboot unnecessary

Linux systems do not require rebooting UNLESS the Linux kernel itself is updated. Windows "Service Packs" nearly always require a system reboot.





Scalability (platform)

x86 Only


The short list of Linux/UNIX platforms: x86, Sun, HP, Alpha, SGI, PowerPC, ARM, MIPS, M68k, IBM mainframes, etc. While in the past Windows was available for MIPS, PPC and Alpha systems, Microsoft has dropped MIPS and PPC support and Compaq dropped Alpha support when Windows 200 failed to run on that platform.

Multi-user support



Windows can only validate multiple users, multiple users can not log on to a single machine at the same time. Linux/UNIX is a multi-user OS from the start.




No rating can be given. Most benchmarks available do not reflect real world performance.

Clustering ability


Yes, Unlimited(3)

See NASA's Beowulf (3) project. Linux systems can delegate processes to an unlimited number of machines in a network allowing for unparalleled scalability and performance.

SMP Support



Recent benchmarks have shown that Windows SMP support is slightly better than that of the Red Hat Linux 2.4.x kernel. The latest Linux kernels have many SMP improvements that could drastically change this.





Windows is easier to maintain

Windows requires attended administration

Linux/UNIX administration can be fully automated


Windows requires fewer administrators

A typical Windows domain requires 3 servers/250 users. Once a Windows server is configured, it still needs administration.

Linux requires 1 server for several hundred users. Once configured, a Linux server can (and should) be left alone.

See (2).

Windows TCO is lower

Add up the up front costs of both hardware and software, administration, licensing fees, downtime, virus software, and you quickly find this is in error.

Linux is free and will run on inexpensive hardware. Administration is light. Cost is extremely low. Viruses are virtually non-existent and downtime is extremely minimal.


Windows is a toy OS

While fashioned from a "toy OS" (DOS), it is far from a toy. Scalability lacks, but it does OK for a small business that's not running mission critical applications on it.


Windows was built upon a single user OS and is not a multi-user system. Linux/UNIX was built from the ground up as a multi-user, client/server OS.

Linux is a Hacker OS and not a serious server solution


This is not true. True hackers require functionality and reliability in an OS, both lacking in Windows. Linux has reached the mainstream and has all the power, functionality, and reliability of any UNIX available, and more than Windows. Linux gets its roots from UNIX, a true client/server OS.


Windows support is much better than Linux Support

Windows support costs money and often leads to no clear solution. It also takes time and phone calls to receive.

Linux support can be received within hours, sometimes minutes, from any of thousands of developers and users on the Internet. It's free, though support contracts can be purchased from Linux distributors such as Red Hat.


Linux/UNIX is 30 year old technology and is out dated


UNIX has had 30 years to mature and become stable and reliable. Linux has been forced to become stable and reliable due to enormous peer pressure within the Open Source community. Linux roots being from UNIX allowed it to be stable and reliable from the start.


Windows is outselling UNIX for Internet servers

IIS Market share, Oct. 1999:

December, 2002: 27.58%

Apache Market Share, Oct. 1999 (may include Windows hosted systems):

December, 2002: 62.02%

Out of 103 prominent companies running web servers, only 16 run NT/IIS. Of over 35 million sites surveyed by Netcraft, Apache market share is more than double that of IIS. (4)

Linux does not have the support of major software and hardware companies.



IBM, Oracle, Cadence, Lotus Development, HP, SGI, Compaq, DELL, etc., all support Linux applications/server hardware.



  1. Microsoft Small Business Server 2000 pricing, Full Version with 5 CALs and 20 additional CALs: http://shop.microsoft.com/Referral/ProductInfo.asp?siteID=10586&typeID=6. Note that pricing increases dramatically when purchasing Enterprise level Microsoft software solutions (See: http://www.linuxworld.com/site-stories/2002/1219.barr.html). Price based upon Red Hat Linux Advanced Server with Premium Service options: http://www.redhat.com/software/advancedserver/subscriptions/. Other Linux distributions may vary in price, but all are available free if downloaded over the Internet

  2. http://www.unix-vs-nt.org/kirch/#ms-solaris, and http://www.unix-vs-nt.org/kirch/updates.html, much of the information contained in this document was gleaned from this site. A press release about Samba, the World's Fastest NT File Server: http://lwn.net/1999/0121/samba.html.

  3. A list of the many Beowulf clusters is available here: http://beowulf.org. Unix trounces Windows NT in testing: http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-335947.html.

  4. http://www.unix-vs-nt.org/webservers.html: 103 prominent company web servers - 16 NT servers, 4 FreeBSD, 4 Linux, 53 Solaris, 24 misc. The Internet was built upon UUCP (UNIX to UNIX CoPy) and most of the Internet is run on UNIX systems.
    Netcraft Web Survey: Of 35,543,105 sites surveyed in December, 2002 by Netcraft, 562.02% run Apache, 27.58% run some form of IIS. Note that Linux sales can not accurately be tracked because licensing and purchasing Linux is optional.

  5. Windows 2000 clustering comes at extra cost through .NET and other technologies. It is not directly supported with the purchase of Windows Small Business Server 2000. See: http://www.microsoft.com/windows2000/techinfo/planning/clustering.asp. For more information about clustering and how it relates to this page, see: http://www.linuxgeek.net/index.pl/what_is_clustering.


Valid HTML 4.01!