Operating System comparison

Executive Summary

Market share and trends

  • The major operating systems are Windows, Mac OS, UNIX and Linux.
  • Windows decisively dominates the workstation market, with almost 90% of market share. Mac OS has recently increased its share to about 10%.
  • Windows XP is still the major workstation operating system, with 65% to Vista’s 24%.
  • Windows and UNIX each command about a third of the server market. 

Pros, Cons and Costs

  • The major advantages of Windows are availability of business applications software, support and resources, and very high mainstream comfort levels.
  • The high cost of matching Windows applications on other systems and the high cost of migration are the greatest barriers to change.
  • Despite somewhat higher hardware costs, Mac TCO is lower than that of Windows.
  • Mac OS offers the advantages of less “user friction interface”, higher productivity, lower maintenance and support costs, and better security.
  • Windows licensing costs are far higher than the other operating systems. Mac servers include unlimited licences, and UNIX and Linux are free.
  • Estimates were that there would be 500,000 new pieces of malware (viruses, trojans etc) for Windows by the end of 2008. Threats to Mac OS, UNIX and Linux are negligible.
  • TCO findings for servers are mixed, with some studies finding higher TCO for UNIX and Linux, others for Windows – depending on who commissioned the study.
  • Linux and UNIX offer low maintenance requirements, exceptional stability and very good security.
  • Mixed networks often make tremendous business sense, as they allow businesses to match systems to thTaking the Emotion Out of the Debate
    “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, said Alexander Pope. The Mac vs. Windows (or, worse, UNIX vs. Linux) debate is a distinct case in point and usually generates more heat than light.

    Fools we may be, but we’ve decided to tackle it anyway. There’s no sense getting hung up on defending a favourite operating system. In the cold light of day, these are the bottom-line issues:
    • Is it the most productive solution for your business?
    • Does it do everything you need it to do?
    • Is it the most cost-effective option?
    • Does it make sense to use more than one operating system on the network?

    Operating Systems: A (Very) Brief Primer
    An operating system (OS) is the underlying software that runs a computer. The four major players are Windows, Mac OS, UNIX and Linux. UNIX and Linux are open collaborative projects; Windows and Mac OS are closed proprietary systems.
    • UNIX is primarily aimed at servers and doesn’t support the range of applications that most users need on a desktop. Three groups worldwide control and coordinate its development, in which thousands of professional developers are involved. It’s mature, stable and highly secure.
    • Mac OS, which drives Apple Macs, actually runs on an underlying UNIX engine, with a user-friendly graphical interface on top. The UNIX base makes it very secure and stable, and it’s known for its ease of use.
    • Linux is a recreation of UNIX. There’s no central control and literally millions of programmers, both amateur and professional, participate in its development. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It’s more popular than UNIX for workstations because it can run on almost any hardware and it supports a huge range of software. Companies like RedHat package up Linux and sell support, but the OS itself is free.
    • Windows is the market leader, overwhelmingly so for workstations, and by a slight margin for servers. It has its own proprietary internal software. It’s relatively easy to use and relatively stable nowadays. Windows is plagued by security problems, in part because it’s the biggest target.

    The OS Market Today
    Windows has almost 90% of the workstation market (desktop and laptop PCs), with Mac OS second at about 10%. UNIX and Linux together have a larger share of the server market than Windows, with UNIX alone at 33% to Windows’ 36% and Linux adding another 16% (pictured below). IBM mainframes make up another 12% of servers, while Mac OS server market share is negligible.

    For workstations, Windows XP remains comfortably ahead, followed by Vista and Mac OS:

    The desktop/laptop split is moving fairly consistently in the direction of laptops. In the third quarter of 2008, laptops accounted for more than half of all PCs sold, for the first time.

    Mac laptop sales were 20% of the total in numbers and 35% in revenues. Apple has regained the lead for laptop revenues, with Dell second at 27%.

    Market Trends

    Windows market share has declined over the past 5 years, but it still completely dominates the workstation market. Mac OS and Linux have both gained ground (graph inset), but Linux still accounts for less than 1% of workstations. The recent growth in Mac sales is likely because of unfavourable market reaction to Windows Vista, and the fact that the new-generation Macs can also run Windows.

    Much of the growth in Macs is on the consumer side, but their use in businesses rose from 1.1% in 2006 to 4.5% by June 2008 – not big numbers, but the first time Macs have gained much traction in the workplace outside of traditional Mac strongholds.

    Total Cost of Ownership for Different Operating Systems

    There are so many variables and entrenched interests in TCO calculations that it’s difficult to know whether they’re even reliable, let alone applicable to other environments.

    It’s perfectly feasible, though, for business owners to weigh the factors listed below and, with the assistance of their support professionals, to estimate the importance and costs of each. That would allow a balanced assessment of which OS is right for that business.

    Never rule out the possibility of using more than one OS on a network (more later).

    TCO for Windows Versus Mac OS

    Taking into account:
    • hardware cost and quality
    • software and licensing costs
    • support costs
    • ease of use
    • reliability
    • performance
    • security
    • productivity levels;

    there’s quite a bit of evidence that the total cost of ownership for Windows PCs is higher than for Macs.

    Pfeiffer Consulting sensibly point out that end-user requirements are a significant factor, and business imperatives are therefore a critical consideration. However, they go on to say that Macs seem particularly well-suited for “deadline-driven” environments, regardless of industry.

    One report in CIO magazine (not a bastion of Mac enthusiasts) put Windows TCO at twice as high as Mac.

    TCO for Windows Versus Linux and UNIX

    These TCO studies present annoyingly contractory findings; the contradictions line up very neatly with the company that commissioned the study!
    • The five-year total cost of ownership of Linux was between 11% and 22% higher than Windows 2000 (IDC 2003, commissioned by Microsoft)
    • IT decision-makers were moving from UNIX to Windows because Windows had lower TCO and faster return on investment (Mercer 2006, commissioned by Microsoft)
    • The 3-year TCO for an application server was $40,149 for Linux; $67,559 for Windows and $86,478 for Solaris, a Sun version of UNIX (Robert Frances 2005, commissioned by IBM)
    • TCO for Linux was lower than Windows and UNIX if starting from scratch, but the cost of migration was very high (Yankee Group, 2004, independent survey)

    The price differential between Linux and Windows has narrowed as Linux has become more mainstream and companies have started charging for packaging, consulting and support; at the same time Windows installations have become cheaper.

    There’s an unresolved debate about support costs for Linux and UNIX. On the one hand, some argue that support is more expensive because there are fewer resources; others say this is not the case and in any event less support is needed because the servers are more stable and secure.

    According to the Yankee Group in 2004, the main disadvantages of each OS were:
    • Windows: licensing costs and security
    • UNIX: expensive hardware
    • Linux: fewer off-the-shelf applications; fewer and more expensive skilled administrators; open-source software increases liability and exposure in data-sensitive networks; limited and conditional product warranties and indemnifications

    Migration considerations

    The overwhelming dominance of Windows makes widespread migration to other platforms very unlikely. Windows has more software, more expertise and a much higher mainstream comfort level. The high cost of matching Windows applications, particularly Microsoft Office and custom applications, is the greatest barrier to change.

    Migration from Windows to Mac or UNIX/Linux can be extremely costly, particularly for larger companies.
    Hardware costs
    It’s generally assumed that Macs cost more than PCs, and that’s true within certain limits. For the average user with average needs, a PC laptop costs about $700 - $800 versus $1,000 for a Mac. Similar-level desktop PCs are around $500, Macs $1,000. For power users, though, the costs of Macs and PCs are similar once the PCs have been upgraded.

    In business settings, Macs can last 1-2 years longer than equivalent PCs, so the per-year hardware cost over the computer’s lifetime can actually be lower than PCs.

    Apple servers are priced somewhere between Dell and HP/IBM Windows servers, at around $1,500 to $2,000 for the hardware.
    Software licences
    Licensing fees are a significant disadvantage of Windows, as they are based on the number of users. Windows licences (Server plus Exchange) cost around $100 per user.

    Mac server, by contrast, allows unlimited numbers of users on a single licence, and the licence comes free with the server.

    Windows workstations can be connected to Mac servers, so using a Mac server could considerably reduce both licensing and administration costs.

    UNIX and Linux licences are free, as is much of the applications sofware.

    The table below, from Prince McLean at Apple Insider, demonstrates acquisition cost savings of $25,489, or around 85%, by using a Mac OS server instead of Windows. That’s for 100 users. For the 10 and 25-user options in the table, using SBS would cut the Windows licensing costs by nearly half, but Mac OS still comes in way ahead.

    More than 250,000 new pieces of Windows malware (viruses, worms, Trojans etc.) were identified in 2007. Estimates were that there would be another 500,000 by the end of 2008.

    For the Mac, a grand total of 4 (!) threats were identified in 2008. Threats for Linux and UNIX are similarly negligible. All signs are that there won’t be a change in these patterns in the foreseeable future.

    Security problems significantly add to total cost of ownership, in direct support costs and the hidden costs of lost productivity.
    Productivity and Support 
    Lower productivity, whatever its cause, contributes about half of the total cost of ownership of computer systems, and it’s a very good reason to consider alternatives to Windows.

    Pfeiffer Consulting commented that the Mac has less “user interface friction” than Windows. It’s a good term for an instinctive feel many users have about the difference between the two environments.

    The ease-of-use gap between Macs and PCs has narrowed considerably, but the consensus is that Macs are still easier to use – translating to higher productivity, lower support costs and lower training costs. Early findings from Nucleus research in 2008 indicated that Mac users put in a third fewer problem tickets and these were resolved 30% faster, compared with Windows.

    It’s also easier to instal peripherals like printers on Macs. Upgrades and reinstallation of software and data are faster and easier, according to Gartner.

    Mac desktop users tend to be more productive at work, a finding that's long shown up in TCO and ROI analyses.

    Mac support is thinner on the ground than Windows, and could be more expensive for that reason. This is also the case for UNIX and Linux, which are considered somewhat specialist areas and command higher support costs. That consideration should be balanced against the lower total need for support.
    UNIX and Linux Servers
    UNIX and Linux combined have a higher market share than Windows in the server market. There seems little compelling reason to recommend either for desktop use at this stage – but both are rock-solid and cost-effective platforms for servers. Whether or not either is appropriate depends on business applications  software needs.

    Many companies are sold expensive Windows servers they really don’t need, that complicate IT administration and push up support costs. In many cases, a relatively inexpensive UNIX or Linux server can do all that is needed.

    Reasons to consider UNIX and Linux servers (the figures below come from Linux research but apply to UNIX in general terms as well):
    • Lower support needs. Provisioning is very fast, patch management is negligible and the servers need minimal maintenance and configuration management. Almost 80% of enterprises spent nothing on Linux consulting, and 63% spent nothing on training.
    • Reliability and uptime. UNIX and Linux exceptionally reliable – 99.99% uptime or no downtime at all were reported for 17% of Linux servers. Our own UNIX servers outperform Windows in terms of workload, despite ancient hardware, and have uptime approaching 3 years since the last reboot.
    • Fast remediation. In over 60% of cases, when problems occur in Linux environments they are diagnosed and repaired in less than 30 minutes, over 8 times faster than industry average.
    • Lower acquisition costs. For similar environments, Linux acquisition costs can be almost $60,000 less than Windows in software costs alone. Windows also incurs higher hardware costs.
    • Higher productivity. Linux administrators tend to manage more servers than Windows administrators, and Linux systems tend to handle greater workloads than Windows systems.
    • Minimal security management. 75% of of Linux administrators spend less than 10 minutes per server per week managing security, and 95% spend less than 10 minutes managing viruses and spyware.

    Mixed Networks

    One of Nash Networks’ differentiators is that we manage all major operating systems, and routinely set up and manage mixed networks. Our philosophy is that clients should get whatever works best for them and not be squeezed into a one-size-fits-all box.

    Our perpective: workstations

    As unrivalled market leader, Windows will always come with support, software, expertise and a sense of security. Users can be certain that the rest of the world will “talk” to their computers. However, particularly for executives and staff whose time is expensive, Macs should be considered as a serious alternative. With the new Intel Macs, users can switch easily between Windows and Mac OS, making the old interoperability concerns a non-issue.

    The costs involved in changing over individual workstations are hardware, some software, migration time and time to learn a new system. With very rare exceptions, our clients who have switched over have never looked back. The Web is peppered with blogs by die-hard PC users who decided to try out the newer Macs and stayed with them.

    We’ve found that since the arrival of Vista, business owners and executives have increasingly switched to Macs, while their staff have stayed on Windows workstations.

    It will be interesting to see whether Windows 7 (which will replace Vista) will change this trend.

    Our perspective: servers

    Windows servers are the overall market leader, particularly in office environments (as opposed to data centres and Web farms). Many key business applications won’t run on anything else. However, the servers and software are relatively expensive and require far more maintenance and support than any of the other server types.

    Clients in the market for a new server should look seriously at Linux or UNIX, particularly if the server isn’t required for anything Windows-specific, such as Exchange.  Linux and UNIX are incredibly stable and very secure. Hardware costs vary according to requirements, but it’s very easy to buy and set up a basic UNIX or Linux box on a shoestring.

    Mac servers should also be a serious consideration as they will remove Windows licensing costs and provide improved security.

    We’ve been amazed at how many clients were sold big, powerful Windows servers when all they needed was a modest box to run their network and email.

    Examples of mixed networks managed by Nash Networks

    We’re proud of the fact that we can get anything to talk to anything else. With the right skills and experience, all the major systems can be set up to interoperate seamlessly.
    • Our own office runs Mac and Windows workstations, and Windows and UNIX servers; everything “talks” to everything else.
    • Client 1 has mainly Windows workstations; the company owners use Macs running VMWare. They have a UNIX file server for storage and backups; it also functions as a firewall. The previous provider tried to sell them a $12,000 Windows server that they simply did not need.
    • Client 2 has Windows workstations for staff, and Macs running Parallels for the executives. Their servers are all Windows-based, running Microsoft CRM, Exchange and other Windows software. The Macs are fully integrated into the network, as are numerous non-BlackBerry mobile devices.

    Apple Mythology and Desktop Security 

    Business suddenly discovers the Mac

    Driving lower TCO and rapid ROI through Unix migrations: IT decision-maker perspectives
    Mercer Management Consulting, 2006

    Eight Financial Reasons Why You Should Use Mac OS: Mac OS is the hands-down operating system winner, from the perspective of cost effectiveness 

    GNU/Linux Market Share: Why Gartner and IDC Must be Ignored

    Going above and beyond . The category breaker: Apple's MacTel
    Kaspersky Security Bulletin Statistics 2008 

    Linux, Unix and Windows  TCO comparison, part 1
    Laura DiDo, Yankee Group, 2004

    Linux vs. Windows TCO: complex issues, no easy answers

    Linux vs Windows: The TCO wars continue

    Mac Laptop Retail Share: 35% Measured in Dollars 

    Macs more expensive? Not if you consider TCO

    Mac vs. PC cost analysis: How does it all add up? 

    Mac vs. PC: The Ultimate Lab Test for New Desktops & Laptops  

    Mac vs. Windows in business case study: Macs have 1/3 fewer problems that are solved 30% faster

    Market Share Smackdown: Linux 85.4% vs. Windows 1%

    Notebook Shipments Surpass Desktops in the U.S. Market for the First Time, According to IDC
    OS market share

    Open Source, the Recession and the Lower-TCO Promise 

    Pfeiffer Consulting: Mac vs Windows: Total Cost of Ownership, Productivity and Return on Investment
    Second Quarter Server Market Continues to Accelerate, Future Growth Remains Uncertain, According to IDC

    Security threat report: 2009. Prepare for this year’s new threats

    Snow Leopard Server to offer low cost, secure mobile access to iPhone

    TCO for application servers: comparing Linux with Windows and Solaris
    Robert Frances Group, 2005

    Understanding the total cost and value of integrating technology in schools
    IDC white paper, 1997

    When Malware Attacks (Anything but Windows)

    Why businesses are embracing Macs: A trend of IT letting users manage their own PCs often leads to Mac adoption

    Why Macs still aren't right for most businesses

    Windows 2000 Offers Better Total Cost Of Ownership Than Linux Win 2000 offers cost advantage in four out of five server workloads
    eir needs instead of vice versa.

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