Usually, I stay away from operating system zealotry. Bring up one OS over another and suddenly you're surrounded by eerily familiar extremist rhetoric. To those of us in the day-to-day IT trenches, the question has never been about the operating system but what you can run on that operating system. That's where Microsoft has always had an edge.
There's simply an ocean of software out there dedicated to Windows, and far too many users are comfortable with these tools to make an inroad for a new OS platform anything but perilously bumpy. That's why we decided to structure our recent Linux vs. Microsoft head-to-head around only e-mail servers. Eventually, I'd like to get to the point of swapping an entire Windows back end for a herd of Penguins during a lab test, but that scope exceeded the space we had for this review.
If I have any regrets about this piece, which focused on migrating from Exchange 2000 to each of the five different messaging platforms, it's that we couldn't delve more deeply into all the facets of Exchange 2003. Love it or hate it, Microsoft Exchange is a deeply feature-rich platform, which we glossed over somewhat due to the midsize-business orientation of this review. But that's partially Microsoft's own fault: The company insisted we review Exchange 2003 Enterprise Edition for this test, which seriously bumped up its price tag when compared with those of its Linux counterparts, even though only two of these Penguin contenders are really any match for Exchange on all its feature fronts.
Even viewed simply from an IT administrator's perspective, Microsoft's Exchange team works hard to make these folks' lives as easy as possible -- as long as you stick to Microsoft products. Migration and coexistence are a snap. Active Directory integration is tight and only getting tighter. And the variety and depth of Microsoft's support and Knowledge Base resources are staggering. Administrators facing any sort of problem can opt to wait in phone support hell, but they can also access any of the following (for a fee): TechNet Knowledge Base articles, Webcasts of Exchange tutorials, any number of Exchange add-ons (as downloads), and what-if games using TechNet Virtual Labs.
There are two important points to face when getting out your wallet to buy Exchange. First, the cost for TechNet subscriptions -- and all the benefits associated with it -- is miniscule when compared with what you've just paid for Exchange 2003, Windows Server 2003, and Office 2003, so it's not going to kill the budget in any case. Second, only Microsoft has all these options. None of the Linux competitors offer anything like Microsoft's vast online library of administrative resources. Of course, the Linux crowd often has a customer base small enough to actually put knowledgeable technicians on the phone to solve your problems, but Redmond's online Exchange resources are still impressive, and many of the geeks in my employ default to these resources much more readily than a phone cry for help.
Then check out the Exchange 2003 Resource Kit, which is not just a bundle of truly excellent documentation but a useful toolkit of additional utility software. You'll find things such as Jetstress (an e-mail performance and server disk I/O tester), LoadSim (a what-if load simulator), various deployment and migration utilities, junk-mail resources, and similar tools. There's a little of this stuff available for specific Linux products, but again, nothing like what Redmond offers its customers.