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Linux knocked in OS study

Linux comes up short when compared feature-for-feature with commercial Unix products and Windows NT, but the operating system is great for some tasks, according to a new study.

Linux comes up short when compared feature-for-feature with commercial Unix products and Windows NT, but the operating system is great for some tasks, according to a new study.

D.H. Brown Associates added Caldera Systems and Red Hat Linux distributions into its ongoing analysis of several operating systems, but dinged Linux for its lack of several high-end features.

However, Linux is very good for several applications: file and print servers, Web servers, low-cost number crunchers for scientific computing, and inexpensive, limited-function "thin" client computers.

Missing from Linux are high-availability features that would let one Linux server step in and take over if another failed; full-fledged support for computers with multiple processors; and a "journaling" file system that is necessary to quickly reboot a crashed machine without having to laboriously reconstruct the computer's system files, the study said.

"In multi-site, multi-departmental operations, where disruptions would significantly affect [business], conventionally developed Unix systems still have an advantage," said Tony Iams of D.H Brown.

However, D.H. Brown didn't assess either the operating system's cost or its stability, Iams noted. Though there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Linux is fairly crashproof, hard data on the subject is missing, he said.

One area where Linux pulls ahead of other operating system is with the Linuxconf Web-based management system that Red Hat ships with its Linux package. "That is a tremendously powerful feature," Iams said. "Web-based management is definitely the future."

Regarding the ability to handle symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP), the ability to split tasks up among several processors, Iams said Linux is just getting its feet wet.

"It boots, yes. But that's simply step one on a long path to have credible high-end SMP support," he said.

Another limitation is in file sizes and the amount of memory Linux can handle. Currently Linux can't use more than 2 gigabytes of memory, and in some cases only 1 GB. Windows NT, on the other hand, can address 4 GB of memory, and conventional Unix versions can address as much as 128 GB in the case of Silicon Graphics' Irix.

In the study, Red Hat edged out Caldera, with higher ratings for Internet functions, system management, and enterprise services such as Java, network security, virtual private networks, or directory services.