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Open Source vs. Windows: Security Debate Rages On

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It's a topic of fierce debate among high-tech cognoscenti: What's more secure -- "open source" code such as Linux and Apache, or proprietary "closed source" operating systems and applications, Microsoft's in particular?

The regularity with which Microsoft has taken to announcing vulnerabilities and consequent software fixes has left few cheering about its security. In contrast, high expectations endure for open source, with proponents arguing that it's inherently more secure because a much larger set of developers can read the code, vet it and correct problems.

"I'm struggling to think of anyone who would argue the other way," says Adam Jollans, chief Linux technologist at IBM Latest News about IBMSoftware Group.

"Discovery is different in the open source and closed source approach," Jollans says. "Because source code is visible to lots of people, if there is a security issue, it tends to be spotted earlier. The open source community isn't shy about criticizing bad code."

Thus, open source developers are "more able to respond quickly and to use new and more secure techniques. Because they perform for peers' kudos, this, too, behooves them to perform well," Clarke says.

"Open source development is centered around operating systems designed many years ago with security and Internet connectivity as a base requirement," he adds.

Open source is foremost an "ethos" that "is precisely the best social environment for the best development of anything," Clarke maintains. "By contrast, the principle culprit of poor security, Microsoft, has several major issues with producing secure code."

Microsoft seems lax to security threats," says Robert Swiercz, managing director of the Portal of Montreal, the city's Web site. "I have less and less ability to trust them." He, too, expresses confidence in the open source community, saying, "This is where the solutions are coming from."

However, some call these assumptions into question and assert there's a lack of accountability in fixing open source. A number of research firms are ready to puncture the belief that open source is by its very nature superior.

Other I.T. managers say they like a lot of open source security tools and applications but corporate policies prevent them from using them.

"We don't do open source because my lawyer says there's no one to sue," says Phil Maier, vice president of information security at Inovant, Visa's technology deployment division. "The lawyers had the final say."

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