Forget the browser wars. This year's big nerd battle is the server shootout between Linux and Windows NT - and it's not just a bunch of geeks nit-picking. While both offer more affordable platforms for Web service than in the past, Linux and NT are polar opposites on almost every other level. They look different, run differently, support different software, and cost money in different places. So far though, most press coverage of the Linux-NT debate has focused on the competing business models, and there's been little helpful information for deciding which OS to use. At the other end of the coverage spectrum, technical comparisons usually stick to performance tests, churning out reams of numbers from the lab and missing the big picture of owning and operating a Web site.
The most obvious difference between NT and Linux is that NT attempts to bring the familiar Windows graphical user interface to a server environment. Ideally, a Webmaster could maintain NT (and its bundled Web server, Microsoft Internet Information Server, aka IIS) primarily by pointing and clicking. NT also comes bundled with a singular set of Microsoft site development tools.
Linux, on the other hand, builds from the long, varied tradition of Unix command-line culture. It can be harder (or at least more daunting) to learn Unix from scratch than it is to learn a Windows system, but Unix users who get over the hump of the initial learning curve rarely express happiness over trying to do the same work in a Windows environment. That's the "Windows rage" you observe whenever your local sysadmin (System Administrator) has to get up from his Linux workstation to fix your PC.
If there's one area where NT stands out over Linux, it's the willingness of third-party software vendors to develop versions of their software for it. Ad-serving software, search engines, databases, application servers, and e-commerce shopping carts are almost certain to come in NT versions,...