Today it is all over the internet. A war that only the geek know about. The fight is over your operating system. Online forums are filled with the advantages of one OS over another. Usually biased and ill-informed these opinions make sweeping claims that are no where close to the truth. Just like the republicans and democrats fight over what is the right course to take for the country, the geeks argue over which operating system is best for your computer. The contenders, Microsoft Widows and Linux. One is a created by a corporate entity and shys away from openness while the other was created and maintained by programmers in their “free” time. One costs money the other can be freely downloaded and distributed. They both come with their share of disadvantages as well as their own unique advantages. Today, I want to try and cut through some of the fanboy-ism and get down to the meat of these operating systems. What makes one better than the other? Is one truly better? Lets take a look.Â
We will start with the better known of the two, Microsoft Windows. This system has long held the spot as “king of the desktop” and it makes zero apologies for it. This operating system has the largest install base worldwide over any other operating system ever. It is incredibly easy to use and more importantly since everyone uses it, it makes it easy for people to sit down at almost any computer and use that computer with little to zero problems.
Some upsides include: easy to install software, great driver support, easy of use, and recognizable. Some downsides include: ease of use, cost ($150 for a version with decent features), security.
You might have noticed that “ease of use” is on both lists. This is because while the operating system is easy to use, that ease of use has made the operating system a huge security hole. Because Microsoft does not know what programs a user will install, a basic Windows install has a large range of ports open by default. Also, because it has such a large install base, it makes it an easy target for viruses, spyware, and other malware. This means hackers can take advantage of the security holes and affect a large number of computers with ease. This is not to say that everyone who runs a Windows computer is going to experience attacks. On the contrary, if one utilizes a firewall, virus protection, and malware removal software, one can have a very limited battle with unwanted software.
Windows is not without its advantages. For one it has what is probably the best support for games out there right now. Linux and OS X both have a limited game library. Windows is also easy to develop for. With the advent of the .Net architecture, rapid application development has increased a ton over the past few years. While Linux is making improvements in this area with Mono, it still is not quite where Windows is. Windows also benefits from being so familiar to so many people. It makes training and understanding computers easy. And the ever increasing number of applications available for Windows (both free and paid) just goes without saying.
All in all, most people can get by with Windows just fine. It is easy to use and comes on pretty much every computer sold today.
Linux has a reputation of being a “hacker’s OS” mainly because it was coded by people not working for any large corporation or more specifically it was not done by people for a large corporation. One common misconception among most people is that Linux is the everything from the underlying kernel to the graphical interface that you see in screenshots. Unlike Windows where the kernel (the part that controls the computer hardware) and the graphical interface are kind of intertwined to a level where they are pretty much one and the same, Linux is nothing more than the kernel that controls the computer. When people say “linux” they are talking about the kernel and not the graphical interface.
With that misconception out of the way it gives way for a person to come to an understanding, about Linux. If you disconnect the graphical interface from the kernel, that means you can have any graphical interface you want. This is true in many respects, it allows you to intermix programs written under different libraries (QT versus GTK), and have the programs you want installed. It also allows for a layer of separation. If your graphical interface crashes, you simply restart the interface, without having to restart your entire computer.
A lot of people get upset when first using Linux. They see the graphical interface and find it different and that discourages them. They expect Windows where they should not. They get so discouraged that they do not see some of the benefits they get from running a non-Windows operating system. One of the biggest advantages is the lack of viruses and spyware written with Linux in mind. Sure such programs exist, but the market share for Linux is so low compared to Windows that no one really takes the time to attack it. Windows and Linux are both extremely stable kernels, but one advantage that Linux has over Windows in the kernel department is the ability that one has to compile a completely custom kernel with only the drivers and features they need installed.
Where Linux has advantages over Windows, it is quickly balanced by its disadvantages. One being is lack of software support. Sure, there are plenty of programs out there for Linux computers and several of them are quite nice. However, they are made available free of charge with little or no warranty. The support depends on the level of work that the maintainers are willing to put in. If you get someone who writes a great piece of software but does not handle support really well, then you are pretty much out of luck.
Linux also lacks game support. While some companies offer linux versions of their games, there are ton that do not. While WINE might help ease the pain a little, it really only “fully” supports the more popular games and is not a foolproof solution. When it comes to taking over the desktop, it is not going to be done without game support from the game makers.
This little write up is hardly what one would call all inclusive, but it does point out some of the failings and as well as advantages of each operating system. It is nice to know you have options when it comes to operating systems. If you ever get tired of paying for Windows, you always have the option to install Linux for free. While Linux has certainly come a long way in recent years, it still has a way to go before anyone can just install it and go. Where I think Linux works best is for people like me who have a wife, in-laws, and children that can really screw up a computer by downloading and installing the wrong piece of software. By installing Linux and the applications that will allow them to do what they normally do in Windows, you can get a computer that requires very little support from the local geek (you).
Do you have a praise or gripe about Windows or Linux? Leave a comment and we can talk about it.