Linux vs Windows has been a subject of debate since the inception of computers.
This article highlights the pros and cons of both the operating systems, given a set of requirements, it also attempts to show you which OS would be best suited for you. I have made an attempt to write this article without much tech-laden jargon, so for those of you are not very computer savvy, it will help you make informed decisions.
For this article, I will be comparing Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.04 – The most popular Linux distribution.
We will be comparing the operating systems from an average user’s perspective and not that of a systems administrator.
Let me begin with an introduction of the Linux operating system as I imagine many of you must be pretty new to this. In fact, a common misconception is that Linux is ‘ridiculously complicated’. While I admit getting used to Linux may take a while for an average windows user, it is definitely easy to use.
Linux comes in various flavours, also known as ‘distributions’. The most popular Linux distribution is ‘Ubuntu’, pronounced as ‘oo-boon-tu‘.
You may notice that there are more screenshots of Ubuntu than Windows 7, since I presume that everyone reading this would already be familiar with Windows 7
So lets being the comparison:
1) Look and feel -
Here is the home screen of windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.04
Since the ‘look and feel’ is a personal choice, I leave it up to you to decide which is better.
Personally, I try not to pay attention to the looks of the operating system so much as the functionality and the features.
2) Bundled software -
Windows 7 by default has very minimal software set, the basic features that we need – word processor, spread sheet and a presentation software are not present. You’ll have to purchase and install the MS Office suite separately, this is something that should be bundled with the operating system. The question I ask is “What good is an operating system, if it doesn’t provide the basic features?”
On the other hand Ubuntu 12.04 comes with the LibreOffice suite (a Microsoft Office Equivalent) preinstalled. It also has F-spot, an image editing program that and an Instant messaging client called Empathy – that has chat provisioning for Facebook, G-Talk, Yahoo,MSN and VOIP capabilities all under a single application.
Drivers – One of the biggest advantages of Linux is its built-in driver set, or rather the ability of automatically downloading and installing them. This includes the drivers for your webcam, Wi-Fi, Ethernet Card, even your printer or scanner! We all know drivers is a big pain that comes when completing a fresh install of Windows 7. With Linux, there is rarely any need to download the drivers manually. Linux also has the ability to download proprietary drivers (The ones from Nvidia and ATI), unlike windows where we have to manually download and install a driver for everything.
3) Media -
Windows comes with Windows media player, which is pretty much useless without codecs, as majority of the videos/movies that we watch require codecs like Xvid. So there is a need to download a codec pack before Windows media player becomes fully functional.
Ubuntu is bundled with Movie Player, and also requires downloading codecs.
However, in both the operating systems, it is very easy to watch videos by simply installing VLC media player.
4) Installing third party software – When it comes to installing third party software, the steps required to install a software in Ubuntu is considerably less. An illustration is shown here of installing software in Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has a utility called Ubuntu software centre. This is one of the most loved features by Ubuntu users. It is as simple as installing an app in your phone from iTunes store or Android Market (now rebranded to Google Play). Just select the software that you need, hit install, and the software is ready to use.
It is clear from the screen shots, that installing software in Ubuntu is a lot simpler than it is in windows. Moreover, Ubuntu will check for any dependencies that the software needs and it will be installed automatically.
However, an argument can be made for computers that don’t have internet access, ease of installing software in Windows outmatches as that of Ubuntu, as it is viewed a very complicated process that includes the terminal (command line interface). Although, it is very unlikely that someone will be without internet access these days.
5) Minimum Requirements -
Windows 7 requires a minimum of 1000 Mhz processor with 1GB of RAM, while Ubuntu requires a minimum of 700 Mhz processor with 384MB RAM. While these are the official requirements, in practice, the requirements are considerably higher. From my experience, If you install both the operating systems on identical hardware, Ubuntu’s performance is significantly higher than that of Windows 7.
In fact, if you were to pull out a 7 year old computer from a junkyard, Ubuntu will work flawlessly.
Moreover, the boot time of Ubuntu is considerably less than its Windows 7 counterpart.
6) Security -
I have been using Windows since windows the days of Windows 95, and I can tell you that Windows 7 has some pretty good security features that, if implemented properly, can give you quite a secure system to work with. Its firewall has advanced features that you can configure. However, there are many who believe that Windows still remains a weak operating system from a security standpoint.
Linux on the other hand , has always been a secure operating system since the early days. It has often been the subject of debate that an open source operating system cannot be as secure as a proprietary one, but Linux has proved that belief to be untrue. Overall, I believe that Linux offers much more security by default.
Access Privileges - Linux by default does not run as a root (the Windows ‘administrator’ equivalent)
This ensures that any automated program or script cannot make changes to the system without explicit
privileges from the user. Although Windows has implemented a similar mechanism called ‘User Account Control or UAC’, Which does provide good protection although not as robust as Linux does.
Viruses - Viruses and other malware continue to be a constant headache for windows users. Combating viruses is not only time consuming, but also expensive when we talk about using Windows in a large scale production environment. Moreover, there is always a need to purchase expensive antivirus software with yearly subscriptions, punching additional holes in your pocket.
Linux on the other hand has significantly less number of viruses, so you are considerable less likely to get infected.
In fact, I am yet to hear this from a friend or a fellow systems administrator, that they are using Linux, and that it has been infected! am sure most administrators or users must have had a similar experience.
Overall Security - Overall, I believe that Linux will always be much more secure than Windows operating system given the fact that its open-source.
It would interest you to know that there is something called as the ‘Linus Law’ – named after the creator of the Linux kernel Linus Torvalds , which states :
In simple terms it means given a large number of developers and beta testers, every problem will be identified quickly and that the solution of that problem will be obvious to someone. I completely agree with this.
7) Availability of Software -
Since Ubuntu/Linux has a relatively less market share, availability of popular software for Ubuntu is a major concern. Some users are forced to stay with windows since their favourite software is not available on the Linux platform.Though this has recently changed and many commonly used programs have now been ported to Ubuntu.
However, some advanced commercial software like the Adobe suite (Dreamweaver,Photoshop etc.) is not available on Linux, due to which, thousands of web developers and designers choose Windows over Linux.
8) Gaming -
Gaming support is another aspect of an operating system. While Linux does have many games, it certainly cannot match Windows 7 in this area. Most of the high-end games have been built for the Windows platform, that make extensive use of Microsoft DirectX.
So its not hard to say that Windows 7 should be definitely your choice if you are a gamer.
9) Ease of use -
This is the part that worries most users who are used to the Windows 7 User interface.
In case you are not pleased with the Ubuntu user interface, there is another distribution of Ubuntu called Kubuntu, which has a marvellous user interface,its very easy to use and is similar to the look and feel of Windows 7 in many aspects.
10) Cost -
Windows 7 ranges from $100 to $300 (Rs. 5000 to Rs.15000) depending on the version you are buying.
On the other hand, Ubuntu/Kubuntu is free of cost. You can download it from the official website.
Cost of a entry level Linux and windows based laptops :
Cost of a entry level Linux and windows based laptops :
In conclusion, we saw the pros and cons of both the operating systems.
If you would ask for my recommendation, I would tell you this:
If you are an average user, who uses the computer for some email, little bit of presentations or spread-sheets, movies and web browsing, Ubuntu/Linux is Definitely the operating system you should use. It enables you to accomplish everything that you normally do using Windows 7, its much more secure, has little or no maintenance, and its free of cost.
For advanced users, say web designers, gamers,programmers who develop software for the Microsoft platform, or have certain applications that only run on Windows, you should stick to Windows 7.
It may interest you to know that, Desktops and laptops that are shipped without a Windows license have a lower cost. (For obvious reasons that it does not include the cost of a Microsoft license)
So your next question would be, which OS do you (the author) use?
Well, I use both of them. I use Windows 7 for certain mission-critical applications and software that work only on Windows 7. Moreover, as a Microsoft Certified System’s administrator, I work with Windows almost everyday, as it is a part of every small to large sized businesses.
For most of my multimedia needs, emails, web browsing, weekly backups, NAS(network attached storage) and more importantly some casual scripting, I use Ubuntu. Moreover, my software development server, firewall, proxy server and VoIP server run on a Ubuntu sever machine.
So which is proves to be the better operating system after reading this article? Which operating system would you choose and why?
Please post your comments in the section below.
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