7 Differences Between Linux and Windows: User Expectations

Wednesday Jul 20th 2016 by Bruce Byfield

Clearly, Windows and Linux fulfill basic functions in exceptionally different ways.

Also see: Open Source Software List, The Ultimate 2016 List

When I was a boy, I imagined that other languages were codes, whose words had a one-to-one correspondence to English. In the same way, many Windows users expect Linux to be an exact equivalent.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Both Windows and Linux are operating systems -- the programs used to run other applications -- but they often fulfill basic functions in different ways. Like any application, they have their own unspoken logic, and part of learning either is to learn their logic.

For example, here are seven differences to watch for when you move to Linux:

7. Free-Licensed Software

Except for specialized or high end applications, most Linux software is free for the download. Put bluntly, that may sound uninteresting, but this simple fact can change your work habits

For example, if you suddenly another application, you can download several candidates, try them out, and pick the best one in 5-20 minutes. Even cloud services and downloadable licenses cannot compare with the convenience. You won't be tempted to pirate software, and instead of worrying about the cost, you can focus on finding the best tools for your purposes. You may soon find yourself resenting the few occasions when you are expected to pay.

6. De-Centralized Software Installation

On Windows, installing new software is a matter of downloading a file that includes all needed resources, and then running it. To remove the software, you select it from the control center.

By contrast, on Linux, you run a command that specifies the software, either from the command line or from a graphical tool. If the software needs uninstalled programming library or some other resources, it asks if you want to install them at the same time. Another command removes the software, and a third the resources that no other application needs. This method saves space, and makes users aware of what is happening.

Efforts are being made to develop a universal software manager that would making installing on Linux more like installing on Windows, but this technique is unlikely to replace the current approach.

5. Different Tools, Same Functionality

A few applications, like LibreOffice and Firefox, are the same on both Linux and Windows. Yet it always astounds me how many people never consider that a change in operating system is probably going to mean a change in available software.

Linux doesn't have PhotoShop or Illustrator. It doesn't have Notepad, Edge, or most of the other tools you are used to having on your desktop. However, you can usually find an equivalent, such as Krita for PhotoShop or Inkscape for Illustrator. Try thinking of functionality rather than lamenting applications.

For example, instead of lamenting MS Word when using LibreOffice, think of what you want to do, and scan the menus for it. It may be under a different name -- for example, AutoAbstract instead of Autosummary.

4. Fewer Games

Linux has never been a major platform for games, although Steam is trying to change that. You may be able to use WINE to run your favorite Windows games, but don't always count on it. Some state-of-the-art Linux games are being developed as free software projects, but most of those are still in development. Native Linux games run more to Solitaire or, at most, Battle for Wesnoth, a 2D strategy game.

3. Greater Security Awareness

For Windows users, security means regular updates and anti-malware checks. Many users do not even bother to set up a separate account for each user.

Unlike Windows, though, Linux was designed for security from the ground up. Although you can relax the security -- which is not advised -- by default Linux sets up one account for administration, and limits what everyday accounts can do. In fact, many features, such as groups and the sudo command are concerned largely with who can do what on the system.

It is not that modern Windows lacks security features but that it tends to favor convenience over security and makes security easy to ignore. In contrast, Linux tends to balance convenience and security, and force users to be aware of the balance. More than one Linux user has come to regard the simple act as reading email as potentially dangerous.

2. Support

You can buy Linux technical support from a few corporations, such as Red Hat and openSuse. Otherwise, your main sources of help are mailing lists and wikis maintained by volunteers.

Contrary to what you might imagine, the problem with these sources is apt to be not too little information, but too much. Responses to a question are apt to include irrelevancies, and you may have to research farther than you expected to know what information is outdated.

1. Do-It-Yourself Mentality

If you have ever tried to repair Windows, you may have noticed that it discourages you from fixing things yourself. Repairs require special applications and expert knowledge to know where to find log files and necessary tools. Similarly, repairs tools on the desktop typically offer an extremely small selection of the functionality you require.

In comparison, Linux typically offers a complete set of tools. The file hierarchy makes finding tools and logs easy, and many parts of Linux are configured in files that can be altered in text editors. The expectation in Linux, clearly, is that you will want hands-on editing.

This expectation has two results. First, after a few months of this DIY, you may find yourself doing maintenance and repair work for yourself that you never imagined doing in Windows.

Second, you may grow to expect to be able to configure almost any Linux software to your liking. You may come, for example to take for granted a selection of over half a dozen desktops -- something unimaginable in Windows. The ultimate example of this expectation is KDE, a desktop on which you can configure almost every aspect of its appearance and functionality.

Changing Assumptions

To many, an operating system acts in the background. However, prolonged exposure can subtly affect your work habits and expectations without you being aware of what is happening.

That is why switching from Windows to Linux can be an unsettling experience. Suddenly, you are aware not only of the expectations you have developed, but of the fact that they no longer apply.

Instead of rejecting the new expectations, try living with them for a few weeks. Once you are familiar with them, you may look back on the expectations created by Windows, and wonder why you ever thought them acceptable.

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