OS Blog: Windows, Linux Highlights From Around the Web

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What it comes down to is whether you trust whomever is ultimately checking and vetting the software. Are you satisfied that full-time corporate experts are making sure their code is secure? Open-source committees? Both? Neither? Linux advocates argue that it's a lot harder to hide malicious code in open-source, since so many expert eyes around the world can examine it.

What do you think? You can post your opinions in our discussion forum.

April 6

Our sister publication Network World takes a detailed look at network security issues surrounding Windows XP Service Pack 2 -- specifically how new security features affect enterprise operations.

"Companies testing XP SP2 say ... corporate users will have to change the way they develop applications and build networks to compensate for the security changes Microsoft is making to its desktop and server operating systems," John Fontana writes.

XP SP2 is set up with its built-in Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) enabled by default, he explains. This will "disrupt communication for existing applications, such as remote administration and patch management tools, performance monitors and other programs that communicate over file- and print-sharing channels, hard drive shares that operate over specific ports, and peer-to-peer and file-sharing programs."

Other potential SP2 features that could wreak havoc with existing apps: "new security restrictions placed on Remote Procedure Call (RPC) and Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) services" as well as "new memory-protection features, which will stifle code generated by just-in-time compilers."

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Japan, South Korea and China have agreed to work together on developing a number of technologies, including open-source software, according to the Associated Press and a number of Asian media reports. That will include promoting Linux as "an alternative computer operating system to reduce reliance on Microsoft's Windows," says Japan Today, citing the Japanese newspapers Yomiuri and Nihon Keizai.

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And in other Asian Linux news, two NTT group companies will be investing about half a million dollars in VA Linux Systems Japan, a subsidiary of VA Software, according to Asia Times Online.

"The deal will be the first sizable investment an NTT group firm will make in a developer of open-source software," the article notes. "As part of the tie-up, the NTT group companies plan to dispatch engineers to VA Linux."

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Penguin Computing says it's released the first 64-bit version of its Scyld Beowulf Linux cluster OS.

April 2

Big industry news today: Microsoft and Sun say they've launched a major technical cooperative effort, as part of a $1.6 billion legal settlement involving patent and antitrust complaints (see story). Rumor has it the companies held off from announcing the deal until this morning, so as not to release the news on April Fool's Day. :-)

If terms of the accord are actually implemented, today's agreement has implications for Windows Server, Windows client, Java and .Net, among other technologies. It should be welcome news for enterprise IT shops that run both a Sun and Windows environment. Highlights:

  • Sun will license Microsoft's Windows desktop operating system communications protocols, which should allow Sun server software to better work with Windows XP and 2000 Professional. The licensing program is part of Microsoft's antitrust settlement with the U.S. government and 18 state attorneys general.
  • Sun's Xeon servers have already been Windows certified, and certification for Opteron-based servers is in the works.
  • "Sun and Microsoft engineers will cooperate to allow identity information to be easily shared between Microsoft Active Directory and the Sun Java System Identity Server," according to a Sun statement. That's important for both better security and more elegant management, since it tends to work better having one centralized user identity system than multiples.
  • "Sun and Microsoft have agreed that they will work together to improve technical collaboration between their Java and .NET technologies," the Sun statement says -- more good news for large enterprises developing with both.

Joint work will start on Windows Server and Windows Client, Sun said, but will "eventually" expand to include things like e-mail and databases.

Is this good for users? Are there a lot of enterprises that will benefit by better interoperability between Sun and Microsoft software? Or is this just a way for, say, struggling Sun (which also announced a quarterly loss and more than 3,000 layoffs) to try to hold onto its slipping market share and for Microsoft to try to strengthen its position against Linux?

Post your thoughts in our online discussion forum about this story.

April 1

The average corporate CIO might not care what computer systems Wal-Mart is selling, since many don't do their enterprise buying there. However, it's worth noting that the world's largest retailer is selling systems running Sun Microsystem's version of SuSE Linux and the StarOffice application suite (see story).

"We are seriously considering Wal-Mart to be the PC supplier for Sun Microsystems," Jonathan Schwartz, head of Sun's software group, told a press conference, according to Silicon.com.

One of the things holding Linux back for broad desktop deployment is perceived lack of non-geek-usable applications. Appearing in Wal-Mart, a potent symbol of Middle America, demystifies Linux and may also encourage developers to create more end-user-friendly applications if they know there's a potential broad-based market.

Actually, Wal-Mart has been selling Linux systems from Microtel for a couple of years now, the BBC points out. But having Sun link up with Wal-Mart might have a bit more enterprise impact than Microtel.

March 31

A new survey purports to show that Linux total cost of ownership is higher than Microsoft's, but skepticism abounds among Linux advocates after some other studies showing such results were found to have been funded by Microsoft (see Users Wary of Linux Report from last September).

This new study from the Yankee Group concludes that Linux is technically equivalent but not better than Unix or Windows Server, and that TCO is better for Windows shops that stick with Windows than move to Linux. One of our competitors bills this report as "one of the first non-Microsoft-funded total-cost-of-ownership studies by a major market-research firm."

However, Groklaw notes that Yankee Group conducted the survey with Sunbelt Software, which "provid[es] the tools necessary for system administrators to secure, protect and support their Windows NT4/2000/2003 environments," according to the company Web site. So Sunbelt may have some interest in the survey outcome, considering there's nothing on its site about offering Linux tools.

Groklaw is concerned that the survey was conducted online at Web sites such as Win2Knews, an e-zine pubished by Sunbelt. "See any preselection in this process?" asks Groklaw editor and paralegal Pamela Jones.

Conspiracy theorists -- and based on incoming e-mail here, I'd venture to say there are a few out there -- might also note that Laura DiDio, Yankee Group principal analyst on the report, has been quoted several times in Sunbelt press releases lauding their products. Last month: "Sunbelt continues to deliver products to the market that answer the unmet needs of the administrator." January: "Sunbelt now provides Exchange system administrators with a complete line of solutions for their anti-spam problems, from the client to the server, to the gateway." She worked on several other surveys with them (presumably funded by them) last year.

To be fair, company-sponsored studies don't always show the desired results -- for example, recent medical research funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb ended up showing that rival Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering drug worked better. But skepticism is certainly justified when an interested party foots the bill -- especially if the relationships aren't fully out in the open. (Disclaimer: Laura DiDio worked for Computerworld about six years ago).

March 26

"If the EU ruling against [Microsoft] is upheld," begins a Business Week online article on the recent European Union antitrust decision ... and I can't help thinking, "yeah, and if pigs could fly."

After all the hyperventilating over the "break up Microsoft" U.S. court decision four years ago (see story), it's kind of hard to get too worked up over yet another appealable decision.

The Business Week piece does note that, "For 14 years, one regulator or another has chased after Microsoft -- mostly unsuccessfully."

But, they believe this time may be different. "While there's a long way to go in this case, it's fundamentally different from what Microsoft faced in the U.S. because EU regulators have more authority than their U.S. counterparts," the article says. "They get to make an initial determination of liability and propose a remedy without going to court."

It's worth remembering that European laws and beliefs on corporate rights and responsibilities differ quite a bit from the current American view.

If the EU decision sticks, what's the impact on IT? In a story running Monday, Computerworld reporters Patrick Thibodeau and Carol Sliwa say it's clear the EU doesn't want Microsoft's desktop domination to move into the server market.

"By requiring server-to-server interoperability, the commission went well beyond the U.S. antitrust settlement reached in 2001," our analysis points out. "But among Microsoft users, industry analysts and legal experts, there appears to be little consensus on the decision's likely impact."

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I've certainly read a lot of Linus Torvalds over the years -- and chances are, you have, too. But I still get a kick out of hearing the origins of Linux. It's kind of the geek equivalent of finding a battered old antique at a flea market, painstakingly restoring it and then finding out it's worth a couple of million dollars.

Linux "was purely a project for my own machine early on," he told the Salt Lake City Tribune this week. "Even when I made it available on the Internet, I did so mostly because I wanted feedback . . . not because I expected anybody to seriously use it."

Yet Torvalds, a symbol of the open-source movement, isn't opposed to commercialization -- up to a point. The quest for profits "end[s] up balancing out the original pure technical interests, and I think that balance is important," he said. Just as long as greed doesn't crowd out what's best for the user.

March 25

I'm still working up the nerve to download XP Service Pack 2 Release Candidate 1 on my system at home. I'm not exactly running a multimillion-dollar business there, but I've got what *I* consider to be some mission-critical apps at home -- that is, I'd be ripping my hair out if they're not working. Some of my software isn't exactly brand spanking new, and I still worry about that Windows XP SP2 could break existing applications problem.

However, some other, braver folks already have downloaded and installed SP2 RC1. We posted a review from our sister publication PCWorld last month of the XP update (see story). But there are a few more hands-on examinations of SP2 RC1 now that it's available for general download.

Microsoft has set up its own newsgroups for people to post comments on SP2. As you'd expect, there are a range of glitches people have encountered, from rather specific difficulties such as trying to make remote assistance work through the new SP2 firewall (Note: Microsoft posted details on configuring the firewall in SP2) to the more general and alarming "I had a great running system, I installed svc pack 2 and got several errors during the install.... It hung on the reboot. I manually rebooted and then it went into a constant cycle of rebooting. ... I will wait for the completed version of Service Pack 2."

Early reviews from BetaNews readers appear mixed. "Installed well, works well, lot of nice features. No problems so far," said one forum poster. "I am waiting for RC2," said another.

March 24

Running PHP on Windows is something like ASP on Linux -- certainly possible, but there are issues.

Well, OK, it's not exactly the same, since ASP is a Microsoft product designed for MS platforms, while open-source PHP is supposed to be platform independent. However, PHP was initially written for a Linux/Unix "multi-process" environment -- where each request is handled by its own process, explains Zeev Suraski, chief technical officer at Zend Technologies Ltd. in Israel and an author of the current version of PHP. Web servers for Windows, though, use the Windows preferred model of multiple threads within a single process.

That's caused some problems running native PHP on Windows, he says, if a single PHP thread crashes, it can bring down the entire Web server.

Zend is about to announce WinEnabler, designed to give PHP on Windows the same stability it now has on Linux and Unix. Suraski describes WinEnabler as a layer between the Web server and PHP, mediating between them. Basically, WinEnabler has a pool of initialized processes all ready and waiting for requests, so a new one doesn't have to be initiated each time a request comes in. Thus it's sort of a bridge between the multi-threaded Web server software and the multi-processing Unix model, the idea being to offer the stability of multi-processing without a whole lot of performance overhead.

WinEnabler will sell for $195 per server for the software only, and $370 for software and support. It's still in beta for a few more days.

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