Windows NT VS Linux Redhat
This article is meant
to be a non-biased look at these two very good server operating systems. My
perspective is that I am a college student, running a website, and need something
with good speed, and easy to use features. Another factor would be that some
common desktops tasks would be able to be accomplished on the machine, while
the server is running.
Feature for feature, these
two are very similar in the basic respects. The big difference is the price.
Windows NT Server: $617.95 at BuyComp.com,
Red Hat Linux: free for download.
Now, that difference right
there is enough to make people look at Red Hat, or any Linux distribution
out there. However, the best option for you is going to depend on what you
are doing with your server, as will be explained.
Recently, Linux has been
gaining popularity because of its open source code and free price. Linux CDs
can be obtained for cheap, and Red Hat sells their distributions with tech
support. To be honest, if you need tech support for Linux, you should not
be using it at all. There is great Linux documentation and books all over
the place, and if you cannot find your answer there, there is none, in most
Linux has been seen by
the media as a competitor to Windows. The Windows they are talking about is
Windows 98. If you think this, you are very wrong, Linux is strictly a server
OS, and is only beginning to become a decent workstation OS. There is simply
a lot of hype behind Linux that is misdirected, and it is going to make Linux
look bad when it does not live up to the hype. It is just the way things are.
I chose Red
Hat for this article because it is the most popular distribution. It is
NOT the best Linux distribution, believe me. Everyone has a different opinion
in the Linux world, and if a vote was taken in the "real" Linux
world, Red Hat would not win. I say "real" because these would be
the people that have tried the different Linux distributions, and know which
works best for them.
NT Server has gotten a bad reputation by some. However, the performance
of Windows NT depends highly on who is administering it. Windows NT with a
good admin running it can be excellent with what it is supposed to do. If
you try pushing it, however, you may have some serious problems, and with
that, comes the bad reputation.
If you are looking for
a Windows 98 baby installation, you have come to the wrong place. Both of
these OSes can be a real bitch, and I have experienced the worst with both
of these. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Red Hat Linux has a decent
installer built in. It is not as good as the one with Caldera Open Linux 2.2,
and some of the other new ones, but it tries its best to do the job and make
it easy for you.
For my install I used
a CD from Linux System Labs
(LSL) I got for about $5 in the mail. I did not need tech support, so going
this route was great.
One of the first things
you have to do is create a Linux partition and a swap partition. If you are
not careful, you might end up with several different Linux partitions on your
drive, which I see unnecessary in most cases. Two is enough for me. Surprisingly,
the installer works with Fat32 well, as Fat32 is a real bitch to work with,
as it is not resizable unless you have some good software to do it for you.
The installer tries to
recognize all your hardware, but usually, fails on a lot of it. The real disappointment
with Linux is the lack of drivers for newer hardware, therefore causing difficulty
on newer systems. Basically, if you want a full working Linux system, you
have to build the hardware around the OS.
I was extremely frustrated
with the Red Hat installer because it did not recognize my Linksys NE2000
compatible NIC. More on this issue later. However, installing on a separate
machine with a 3Com card worked fine.
The installer lets you
pick out some of the apps you want installed. I installed Apache, the HTTP
server, and some other utilities, and Samba support. One thing I hate is how
the Red Hat install automatically installs a bunch of other stuff by default.
Looking at a fresh install of Red Hat is like looking at a big mess. Also,
you cannot pick your Desktop environment, like KDE or GNOME, both get installed
The installer goes on
and you enter in your network settings and other basic setups. Last of all
it ask you if you want Lilo for a boot manager. No matter what, you need to
say yes to this for Linux to boot, unless you happen to have some other boot
manager you can configure to use with Linux. I have not seen one, but I am
sure they exist. There is many ways you can have some boot manager, and then
have Lilo boot Linux if you don't install Lilo in the Master Boot Record (MBR).
It takes some trial and error, and more errors, to get it right.
I left out that you set
the password for the root account in the installer also. This is the big mama
account, the same as Administrator under NT. You need to be sure to protect
this account, as this account can do anything to the system, with no restrictions.
The reason why I had so
much trouble with the Windows NT install was because I had Windows 98 with
a Fat 32 partition on there previously. Let me tell you now that you need
to put a silver bullet in this Fat32 partition before you move to the install.
I actually had the partition come back to life and overwrite (Because Fat32
is not resizable) the NTFS (Windows NT) partition after I got NT all installed
and setup! I was not very happy as you can imagine when I rebooted and had
the Windows 98 screen flashing at me once again, after I hoped to never see
it again. Further examination with Partition Magic revealed that, in fact,
the NTFS partition was gone. There may have been some obscure way to recover
it, but I know of none. I simply started over, making damn sure that Fat 32
had been deleted and that formatting a Fat16 partition on top of it got rid
of it forever.
The hardware part of the
install went good, just be sure you at least have an NT driver for your NIC
on a floppy. Then you can download NT versions of all your other drivers.
Also be sure to download Service Pack 5 to get support for the latest features
(Including AGP with service pack >= 3), if Service Pack 5 is not already
included. I had no problems with anything I expected to work, as far as hardware
goes. NT drivers are readily available anymore for a lot of the decent hardware.
NT gives you an option
list for software to install much as Red Hat Linux does. However, Windows
NT does not install all the extra junk like Redhat does. The HTTP server that
comes with NT is Internet Information Server (IIS). It does more than HTTP,
however, it does FTP and much more depending on the options.
Of course, you will have
to set an Administrator password, and be sure to protect it.
Remember I said that I
could not get my NIC to work with the installer? Well I had to get this taken
care of first so I could download. I had no luck with patching the kernel,
and I ended up rebuilding an updated kernel I downloaded elsewhere. Building
a kernel and putting it in place is a major task, and I was not happy about
it. The Linksys website said my card works with the regular NE2000 PCI driver
included with Linux. Well, I built my new kernel (optimizing it quite a bit
too) and put it in place and got it ready for the reboot.
On the reboot, I still
got red error messages saying that my NIC could not be recognized. This is
where I gave up running Linux on my machine. The rest of my review comes from
the other machine.
Red Hat give you GNOME
as your default desktop environment, and it is not to my tastes. I setup KDE
to my liking, and used the Linuxconfig to add users and make other changes.
I still could not figure out how to easily delete GNOME, but it was not hurting
anything being on there.
When using Linux, you
can very easily tell how rough and antiquated the X-Windows base is for the
Linux GUI. The GUI was not very responsive, and I have a decent Rage Pro AGP
video card. Setting some windows to use semi-transparencies greatly caused
lag. That was unimpressive. Many of the widgets are horribly ugly and sometimes
cause problems in Netscape when viewing a web page because they are so big
I also set my resolution
to 1024x768 in the install, but it looked like it was running at 800x600.
I spent a little time poking around to find the video settings, but soon gave
Beyond all that KDE is
a good start on a desktop environment for Linux. It is easy to use, and has
some good utilities. It is very configurable, but not as much as GNOME. That
is a good thing.
I also used Linuxconfig
to add a couple of users with restricted permissions. This was easy.
Apache was setup somewhat
already, and there is a good configuration file to change settings. There
is also Commanche that is a more visual Apache setup. An FTP and Telnet daemon
were all ready to go for the most part. One nice thing is that user settings
for Linux are carried over to the FTP and Telnet.
Installing apps is not
as easy as NT, however. Most of the time you need to download a tarball, decompress,
and compile it. I am sure this will change over time, however. App selection
for Linux is not that hot for desktop apps. WordPerfect is good, but I cannot
print from Linux with my HP printer, so what is the point?
Samba networking was pretty
much all ready to go too, and not too shabby. It does the job, for transferring
files. I am not sure about printing.
Overall, things were easy
to do, just not pretty.
Things in NT are very
consistent as far as the look and feel. I was able to accomplish almost everything
without looking at documentation like I did with Linux. However, it was very
apparent how impossible it would be to admin an NT server without a GUI, Linux
is the opposite, as the command line is the best route to go, and it can all
be done through Telnet.
There is a product called
PC Anywhere that lets you use the NT GUI over a network on any other computer
with PC Anywhere. It is pretty neat in its own right, but you need a fast
connection and a monitor..and PC. Hell, with Linux you could admin your server
through a Palm with a modem and a Telnet session if necessary! It would be
akward though, but possible.
IIS was very complete
with the setup on the install. Settings could be changed in the Internet Service
Manager, which also has an HTML counterpart for remote access. This is easy
to use also. Also, many things can be done in the file manager and right clicking
on a file or directory and selecting properties. There I can change permissions
and ownership, among other things.
User configurations is
confusing in NT, because a user for the OS is not the same as a user for IIS.
They can be added into IIS, however, or just be added in IIS. I am not sure
if this is a good or bad thing, but it is confusing.
NT Server is great as
a general use OS. It is very easy to use, and responsive. I have 64 MB of
memory, and that will have to be upgraded soon, as when I have a lot of apps
open, there is some paging to disk. The GUI is just like any other version
of Windows, except there are more options.
Installing apps works
like any other modern Windows OS, just use the install wizard. You cannot
beat this. Not only that, I am able to use all the apps I am familiar with.
I used the regular Windows
Networking and it worked well. I was able to pass around files and print over
the network with relative ease and speed.
Since I was not using
my computer, I did not leave Linux on there very long. However, leaving alone
for long periods of time while doing some moderate serving posed no problems.
I have heard of Linux machines being on for years with no problems.
Using for desktop use
while it while it was serving did not seem to lag it down that much. Compiling
while serving seems to cause some speed problems at times.
The OS never crashed on
me, and always recovered after slowing down.
Again, I felt very limited
with what I could do without some of my favorite apps. I used a variety of
popular Linux apps, and while they were free, they did not appeal to me very
much. The Gimp, a graphic app, has some nice innovations, but the version
I was using did not seem very intuitive, and efficient to use.
I liked playing around
in the command line, however. There are some very neat things you can do in
the command line that would be next to impossible in a GUI. However, the commands
seem like gibberish sometimes and seemed impossible to remember.
NT Server remained responsive
after installing many apps, even still running only 64 meg of memory.I did
experience one crash and I was
impressed my the crash
very much. Here is why. The OS saved everything in the RAM to hard disk before
rebooting. I am not sure where it saved, but I bet I can find it if I looked
around for a while.
Having a lot of apps open
did slow down the web server quite a bit. Sometimes the OS does not seem to
recover from this after shutting the apps down. Most of the time it does.
Letting the server run
for several hours while doing moderate serving yielded good results, good
speed and no crashes. I know of NT servers that have run for half a year with
Overall, I have enjoyed
using Windows NT much more than Linux.
Linux is coming along,
but it needs a couple years yet before it will be satisfactory for the requirements
I set in the introduction. However, this OS is great today for servers that
need to be administered remotely. One excellent example of this is Cobalt's
line of servers which can be easily administered over the web using a
web browser, and are ready to go out of the box. There is even an LCD on the
front for initial setup, no monitor needed. This is where Linux belongs today,
in implementations like this.
You might also want to
take a look at FreeBSD.
The FTP install method is excellent, or a CD is available from LSL. FreeBSD
is a true UNIX, and I like it even better than Linux. It can also run Linux
binaries if the option is selected on install. Truthfully, I think that the
BSD group of OSes have a better design than Linux, and that it is faster "out
of the box". Some of the big websites use a BSD distribution, like Yahoo
for their servers. FreeBSD is good enough that I cannot imagine that the others
can be any better.
Linux has its place however,
and has a better open source license than the BSDs do (until recently anyway),
and that has been one reasons why Linux has taken off.
NT Server can handle most
anything. This product is refined to Microsoft's tastes, and I like many aspects
of it. However, you have to wonder how Microsoft is going to keep from dropping
the price on it's Server OS line as time goes on.
For the requirements I
set above, probably the best setup would be to use Windows NT Workstation
running Apache. This is a good price and feature combo that would also do
Between Windows NT Server
4.0 and Red Hat Linux 6.0, NT Server wins easily, but it should for being
a $600+ product. I guess the logo I used at the top of this page for NT Server
can justifiable have a checkered flag in it.