Windows, Unix, and Linux: Which Earns the Most

By Joe McKendrick
McKendrick & Associates
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Many analysts and pundits have been predicting the demise of Unix, and that commodity-priced Windows and Linux architectures will gradually replace the OS. However, as Unix gets chased into the high end of computing, the value of Unix skills is rising as well. In fact, IT professionals skilled at either developing or managing Unix systems command far higher salaries than their Windows or Linux counterparts. A survey of enterprise IT salaries confirm that Unix knowledge trumps other platforms at all levels - from entry-level programmers to the CIO.
The multi-client salary survey, conducted by my firm in early 2003, documents the compensation rates at 73 enterprise Windows sites, contrasted against 74 Linux sites and 132 Unix sites. (Because Windows is so ubiquitous, most of the Linux and Unix sites in this survey also supported Windows systems. However, the Windows subsample was narrowed to Windows-only shops for comparative purposes.)

Other industry surveys also have documented the higher rates offered Unix managers and developers. For example, a recent salary survey conducted by Dice, Inc. also finds such distinctions between Unix and Windows salaries.
Our own research found the distinction between OS platform salary rates is most glaring at the CIO/vice president level. CIOs at Unix installations made twice the base salary of their Windows counterparts. CIOs made almost $135,000 a year at Unix sites, compared with $114,000 at Linux and $73,000 at Windows-only installations. Some of this disparity could be attributed to the fact that the Unix subsample is more likely to be part of larger, multiplatform installations. However, when looking at the entire Windows sample - which includes multiplatform sites also supporting Unix/Linux - the overall average increases to about $110,000 - still well below the Unix average.
Systems analysts working within Unix environments also had salaries far surpassing their counterparts in Linux and Windows. Unix analysts had average base salaries of more than $70,000, surpassing their Windows counterparts by more than 22%. There was also a wide disparity between Unix and Linux salaries. Systems analysts in C/C++ shops fare best of all development languages, drawing an average salary of $73,600.
Programmer/analysts with Unix or Linux skills were able to command salaries at least 9% to 10% higher than their Windows counterparts. P/As working within Unix environments had average base salaries of close to $64,000, while those in Linux environments made $63,000. This contrasts with an average base salary of $58,000 for those working exclusively in Windows environments. By language, P/As in C/C++ and Java shops fared best, drawing average salaries of $66,400 and $65,400 respectively.
Programmers in the Unix realm made almost $54,000 a year in the survey - exceeding their Windows counterparts by a third. Those programmers working at Linux installations also fared better, making a base salary of about $49,000 a year, compared to $41,000 for Windows. The best-paid skill areas for programmers - who typically have five years or less experience - are in Java and C/C++. Programmers in Java shops make $52,200, while C/C++ developers make $52,000.

Average Annual Base Salaries: By OS

Windows only Linux Unix

CIO/VP $73,200 $114,300 $134,700
IT director $80,100 $104,800 $106,200
MIS manager $70,700 $84,700 $96,800

Systems analyst $57,900 $63,900 $70,700
Programmer/analyst $58,400 $62,600 $63,600
Programmer $40,600 $49,400 $53,800

Based on a survey of 250 enterprises conducted by McKendrick & Associates 2008