Windows vs Linux: The 2015 Version

Monday Jan 26th 2015 by Matt Hartley
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Both Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux have strengths and weaknesses. Which one is a better fit for you?

Now that everyone has had time to examine Windows 10, it seems like a good time to finally do a proper Windows vs. Linux showdown. After all, I waited until Windows caught up in turns of features and user interface. For the sake of common sense, I've decided to use Ubuntu as our default Linux release.

In this article, I'll hammer out the features for both platforms and compare them accordingly. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses, and this article will help to shed some light on each of them.

The installation of the operating system

Both Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux have straight forward OS installers. Simply follow the prompts as they're presented to you.

Installing Ubuntu: Ubuntu's installer generally points you to either installing their OS along side of an existing OS or installing over an existing Ubuntu install. The steps are simple if you already have another operating system installed. But if you're looking to install Ubuntu over an existing Ubuntu installation, keeping your docs, settings and pictures require you to take one of the following approaches.

Option one, use Ubuntu's backup tool before you install Ubuntu again. Option two, during the installation process, select "something else" to manually select which partitions are to be formatted. Obviously if Ubuntu is being installed on a new hard drive, this is a moot issue and a clean "Erase and install Ubuntu" option is perfectly acceptable. Personally, I always go with the "Something else" installation type. I prefer a dedicated home directory, which this option makes possible during partition setup.

One of the nice things about the Ubuntu installation is that you're asked if you'd like to Encrypt your installation. In addition, a Logical Volume Manager (LVM) option is also presented. This makes resizing partitions in the future much easier, thanks to snapshots.

Installing Windows 10: While technically possible to install Windows 10 and Ubuntu along side of one another, Windows' is famous for killing off GRUB, Ubuntu's boot manager in the process. Therefore the preferred method has always been to install Windows first, then to install Ubuntu there after. Long story short, Windows doesn't truly play nice with Ubuntu on the same machine by default. You'll have to take steps to protect your Ubuntu installation if you wish to use both operating systems.

During a Windows 10 installation, the installer does a nice job of recognizing that you might wish to save your docs, settings and pictures. Instead of expecting you to have created a dedicated home partition or using a backup utility ahead of time, Windows 10 provides an option to backup this information on the fly. While it's not a feature I personally would rely on, casual computer users will benefit from this feature.

Instead of a LVM feature, Windows 10 uses Storage Spaces for their server release. However, I'm not clear if this is the case for their typical desktop releases as they haven't released officially yet. Assuming this will be provided, it will offer a LVM-like experience for Windows 10 users.

What's interesting about Windows vs. Ubuntu, is that Windows (as of 8.1) provides encryption by default. Ubuntu, on the other hand, feels their users can best make this decision themselves. Will Windows 10 also have encryption turned on by default? My best guess is that it will in its final released version(s). And as most of us know, encryption is great until you're unable to recover lost files. With Windows we're asking Microsoft to hold onto our encryption keys where as with Ubuntu, it's left in our own capable hands.

Windows 10 wins with its ability to easily protect and restore user data during a clean installation. However I feel they lose credibility with their encryption due to Microsoft's involvement with various federal agencies.

Looking at the desktop

Ubuntu: After installing Ubuntu, you're presented with your desktop and the Unity launcher. On the left, is the Launcher itself and the Dash. At the top of the screen, you'll find your various indicators. When an icon on the Launcher is clicked, that application is immediately launched.

One thing that can take new Ubuntu users by surprise is how Unity lays things out with launched applications. Software appears as "launched" in the Launcher instead of appearing "minimized" at the bottom of the screen. Other new experiences for the non-Ubuntu user include using the Dash for locating applications, documents and other files. Perhaps the biggest shift for the newcomer would be the use of Lenses. Each lens offers different functionality. For example, a social lens would allow its users to parse content from connected social media sources.

Applications included with Ubuntu are carefully selected, like with any operating system. The idea is to make sure the end user has the basic applications needed to accomplish common tasks. These applications range from browsing the web to a completely free office suite. Additional applications can be found for Ubuntu through the Software Center, the Personal Package Archive (PPA) system and through other third party sources.

Windows 10: With Windows 10 installed, immediately you find that the release is struggling to let go of its Windows 8 roots. Whether or not this is a bad thing is entirely a personal perspective.

First thing you'll notice is how the Start menu is setup. At its core, I think it's an interesting idea. Blending Windows tiles with a traditional menu layout is definitely going to stir strong opinions. Also new is the push for Microsoft Office Online. The idea here is to bridge the gap between a localized Office experience and that of one that's web based. With regard to the full version of Office 2016, the cost for this suite remains a mystery.

The next item to note is the Windows Store. Like the Ubuntu Software Center, you can download both free and paid applications to be installed onto your desktop. Unfortunately for Ubuntu, the Windows Store looks far more polished than the dated Ubuntu Software Center. That said, I am not really that pleased about the "tile everything" approach Windows 10 takes with its newly installed software.

In the end, Microsoft wins hands down with the Windows Store, whereas Ubuntu wins with its overall desktop experience – no tiles, less "color splash" distracting the user. As for office suite offerings, it's a bit of a tie. I prefer the LibreOffice suite and its locally installed applications. However, if Microsoft ever wises up and begins offering its "full" office suite to users, vs. it's stripped down version, this point could also go to Microsoft.

Deep concerns and closing thoughts

I'll be honest. From a visual point of view, I'm not a fan of the new Windows layout. While it's far better than previous releases, it's still not for me. Unfortunately, though, my opinion alone isn't going to sway anyone from avoiding this release.

The first issue is that it's going to be a free upgrade for a lot of Windows users. This means the barrier to entry and upgrade is largely removed. Second, it seems this time Microsoft has really buckled down on listening to what their users want. Many of the new features have allegedly been due to Windows feedback.

As things stand now, I see the following motivators being Ubuntu's best shot at wooing away folks from Windows going forward.

Privacy – Even if there are concerns about Unity Lenses and data collection, this is easily remedied by using an alternative desktop environment. Windows, by contrast, has a horrid track record in this department.

Security – Despite recent improvements with Windows security, it's still the biggest desktop target on the web with regard to attacks. This won't be changing any time soon. Linux by contrast, has a fantastic desktop security track record.

Hardware support – This is always disputed, no matter how many times I mention it. But the fact is, when you bother to include older peripherals and hardware, Linux still outshines Windows all day long in terms of hardware support. Try running anything from the XP era on your Windows 10 desktop, let me know how good the driver support is. Under Ubuntu, it just works. Window's only advantage is having an edge with smoother graphics drivers.

Does this mean that Ubuntu Linux and other distros are doomed? Nope, especially when you jump out of the Apple/Microsoft echo chamber that is the United States. Linux desktop adoption is exploding all over the world. So while Microsoft continues their hold on the market here in the States, the rest of the world is already moving on.

To further illustrate my point: Refer back to my article on the Secret to Desktop Linux Adoption? As anticipated, the naysayers had ample reasons why techs would not only never participate, but to do so would translate into lost revenue. Besides being completely misinformed, I fear the greater point was missed as well. The article was quite clear in stating Windows AND Linux, not just Linux. To not offer a better-suited solution to someone struggling with Windows is irresponsible at best. It's unfortunate more people don't realize this.

Folks, depending on malware removal as a revenue source is a dated, faltering business model. As Windows 10 rolls out, I think we're going to start seeing greater evidence of this. It's already putting countless local repair shops out of business. The mailing lists I subscribe to are quite clear on this. Mobile, tablets and OS X are changing the industry.

Therefore once you realize your "malware removal" customers are already on their way out, wouldn't it make sense to adapt? Techs offering Ubuntu support as a service is not only profitable (I know of three companies doing well with it), this approach is the ONLY thing that would get the United States to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of desktop Linux adoption.

Ubuntu and other distros are ready for the desktop now. I have people running these environments all day, everyday. As a community, we need to get on the page with this now or accept that Windows has already won. I know where I stand, based on years of personal experience with clients and converts. Where do you stand? Are you part of the solution? Perhaps instead, you hold onto the farce that "Linux is hard" because you're unwilling to become the bridge of support others need to make the switch? What say you? Hit the Comments section to sound off.

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