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Study: SuSE leads in Linux improvements

Linux has improved significantly in the last two years for businesses, according to a new study, but Unix still outpaces the operating system.

Linux has improved significantly in the last two years, a new study released Thursday has found, with a version from SuSE edging out that of rival Red Hat in the businesses features race.

Since D.H. Brown Associates last reviewed Linux, versions of the operating system from SuSE and Red Hat have moved from "OK" to "good." Debian made a bigger leap, from "weak" to "good," but still lags the other two versions.

"In every category, SuSE either held first place or tied Red Hat for that position," the study said, with a particular advantage in systems management. SuSE's edge came from its practice of adopting new features quickly, but, "some competitors argue that SuSE ships those technologies before they are entirely ready for production use," the study said.

The study gauged operating systems features that businesses need to run servers, such as support for large amounts of memory, crash analysis, remote administration, networking standards and new Web services software.

The improvements compared with those of 2001 aren't yet enough to catch Linux up to the best versions of Unix, which are rated "excellent," but as in 2001, Linux surpassed the weakest Unix. "Linux's evolution and maturity is proceeding at a rapid pace," the study said.

The OS is expected to take another step ahead as the current 2.4 version of the kernel, or heart, of Linux is replaced by the forthcoming 2.6. "We do expect the 2.6 kernel to considerably improve Linux's standing in our evaluation. Many of the functions that are being promised for the 2.6 kernel are specifically addressed in our scorecard," said study author Tony Iams in an e-mail interview.

Iams said the upcoming version will offer improvements on large multiprocessor servers with scheduling multiple tasks, managing memory and handling input-output (I/O)--the transfer of data to and from networks and storage systems. "These will significantly improve the ability for Linux to 'scale up on large...systems, allowing it to support much larger databases and other I/O-intensive applications," Brown said.

Linux, which began as a programming hobby less than 12 years ago, has blossomed into a serious product that has found a place on systems from all four of the dominant server makers and that has put Microsoft on the defensive. However, Linux is embroiled in a legal controversy as Unix intellectual property holder SCO Group is accusing developers of directly copying Unix programming code into Linux.

D.H. Brown compared Linux to Unix but not to Windows because the analyst firm's scoring technique currently isn't appropriate for the task, Iams said. Windows employs a different philosophy than Unix and Linux, with many higher-level software components packaged along with the operating system.

D.H. Brown reviewed the features of SuSE Enterprise Linux Server 8, Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS 2.1, and Debian 3.0 as of January 2003. The company didn't rank market share, customer satisfaction, support options or application availability.

Unix still leads Linux in several areas. For example, prevailing versions of Unix have sophisticated features for ensuring that one system can take over for another that's crashed. They also have features to better juggle multiple tasks, often in independent partitions that completely isolate one part of a server from another. Versions of Unix work on servers with dozens of processors. And they are better able to handle changes in hardware configuration without having to be shut down.

Linux, though, leads Unix in a few areas, including support for some newer Internet communication standards, the study said.