Linux and Windows Under Pressure

Is Linux for real in medicine? How does it fare against (reality: with) Windows in a real computing environment? Having recently set up a hospital network with RedHat Linux under demanding circumstances. A technical analysis is in order. Read on.

The central question: How did it fare against Windows? Two thumbs up, it worked very well. But the reality is that it has to work with Windows for now. Even in Guatemala they had two Windows machines already in place and running, although not networked. With regard to interoperability, the usual Linux issues surface: it isn’t easy to set up Samba for the beginner, but once in place it works very well. However, Windows is in trouble on this issue. Setting up a modem to connect to an ISP with RedHat Linux 6.2’s Usernet took less than five minutes. Less than five minutes. The Windows side was a confusing mess of ‘Can’t find !@#$%.inf, file’ messages which were in a word obnoxious since I had not only the manufacturers driver disk, but also the Windows 98 CD in the drive and still couldn’t find things. It was was very shabby in comparison to Linux. Kudzu found the modem on the first try, and the Usernet setup utility was simple and fast.

A network card swap done side by side on a Linux and Windows server also found Linux to be superior. Linux noted that the old card was missing, asked to remove the old card configuration, and then asked to install the new card configuration which it accurately found on its own. It was shockingly easy.

On the networking side, Linux won hands down as far as being able to know crucial, specific information such as if a computer was actually up on the network and understanding what was going on. Windows was frequently a mystery as to why something was (or wasn’t) working. I found a four hour long loose connector problem by pinging through Linux. I’m sure this utility is available on Windows, but its GUI ‘Find Computer’ equivalent doesn’t give detailed information.

An important point in Windows favor was its ‘Network Neighborhood’ desktop program. This was superior to RedHat Linux in easily visualizing and using network disks and printers for beginners and novices. Even ‘Network Neighborhood’ is difficult for some users to understand. Command line? Forget it.

Linux also outperformed Windows in three respects: security, low vulnerability to viruses and boot-up time. Windows security is simply not there. There is no question of compromising a Windows system, you can consider it done just by turning on the machine. The flip side of this is viruses. Hermano Pedro Hospital’s small Windows based network on the administrative side was actually completely off the Internet for fear of viruses. This is a good idea, but inconvenient. Linux users are less vulnerable and the recent ‘I Love You’ virus problem is merely another example of this. Finally, a major slowdown in boot-up time with Windows (and you boot up ALOT) is that it frequently has virus scanning software installed that dreadfully slows boot-up time on these machines. The machines I worked with in Guatemala were no exception and is a performance hit that is frequently overlooked in Linux to Windows comparisons.

Windows major advantage is that it is entrenched, it’s office suite is easy to use, many, many people have used it and feel familiar with it. There is a definite yuck factor to overcome for many users until they see Linux benefits for themselves.

In summary, Linux will have to co-exist with Windows in most organizations for the near future. While more technical, Linux has big advantages in the area of security and performance, while Windows frequently has more familiarity and ease of use. The final verdict: Under harsh circumstances, Linux is a winner and is likely to move ahead of Windows in all or most areas within the year.

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