Windows vs Ubuntu: A Look Before You Switch

Monday Aug 14th 2017 by Matt Hartley

If you're considering switching from Windows to Ubuntu, here are some factors to consider as you explore the Linux operating system.

When I first thought about writing an article on Windows vs. Ubuntu, I decided pretty quickly that I would avoid trying to get people to switch operating systems. The fact is, that's a deeply personal decision that I simply don’t need to influence.

Instead, this article is written for someone who is considering switching from Windows to Ubuntu, doesn't mind exploring the unknown corners of an operating system they're unfamiliar with and won't give up at the first sign of trouble. This may sound harsh, but this simply isn't an article targeting those who are simply "window shopping" – no pun intended.

It's been my experience that those who stick with Linux are those individuals who fall into one of two camps. Those who have a desire to learn and adapt. And those who simply have someone more tech-savvy manage their computers for them. This article will cater to the former.

Dual-Booting Windows vs Ubuntu

I'll be first to admit that I'm not a fan of dual-booting Windows with Ubuntu. My reasoning isn't ideological. My issue with it comes down to how Windows tends to break dual-booting after its updates. Technically one would be fair in pointing out that the larger issue is EFI, but the end result is Windows being the only bootable operating system.

Assuming you accept this can and absolutely will happen to you eventually, then the next step is to decide how you want to map out your dual-booting system. It's certainly possible to simply setup the needed partitions and set up a Windows and Ubuntu installation scheme. But there is an order to things to consider. For example, which operating system should you install first?

Most experts agree that you'll want to install Windows first, run its updates and configure it to your liking. After this is done, you would install Ubuntu while making sure you choose the "Install along side of Windows" option in Ubuntu's installation options. This "should" get GRUB appearing upon the installation completion so you can select the OS you wish to boot into going forward.

If at all possible, I prefer to use separate hard drives for each OS. While it's not critical, it's merely a preference in how I like to handle my partitioning or dealing with drive failure. I also recommend setting up a dedicated home partition for your Ubuntu installation. This makes reinstalling Ubuntu much easier and provides a "lazy person's backup" if you are running a few days behind on your proper offsite backups for your user data. This is not suggesting that running a dedicated home partition is a reliable means of backing up your user data. Instead, this approach simply saves you time if the drive is intact and the data is uncorrupted after hosing an Ubuntu installation. Moving on.

Running Software on Windows vs Ubuntu

Before you install Ubuntu for the first time, I highly recommend getting used to using software that's available for both operating systems before committing to running Ubuntu full time. Some Linux users love to suggest that software is software and switching platforms just isn't that big a deal. I disagree and believe that it's critical to know what applications you'll be using on the new platform and how they work.

For example, if I'm a Photoshop user and believe that switching to GIMP is going to be a straight forward process, I'm in for a bit of a shock. GIMP is fantastic image manipulation software, however it's layout and features do differ from it's Adobe influenced cousin. For example, Photoshop handles CMYK color mode easily out of the box with the right ICC profile setup ahead of time. GIMP can provide elements of this, with additional plugins installed. Perhaps more importantly, GIMP lacks full support for CMYK.

An alternative for Linux users looking into proper CMYK support would be going forward with Krita. As someone coming into Linux from Windows, the consideration here is that Krita is a paint program where Photoshop is a photo editing program. Thankfully, Krita has outstanding documentation that can help you decide if Krita is a match for you.

And this my friends, is why I recommend trying out Linux software on a platform you're familiar with first. Most open source software for the desktop is readily available for multiple platforms afterall. If you find the Linux alternative easy to use, then all the better. But if you find that there are some titles that simply aren't replaceable in Linux, you can dual-boot with Windows and still have a robust Linux experience.

Windows vs Ubuntu Hardware

Various Linux user forums are filled with people complaining that some element of their Linux installation isn't working as expected. The twist is that most of these posts are made by people running Linux on notebooks built for Windows. Obviously this doesn't mean that you can't run Linux on these machines. Quite the contrary, actually. What it does mean is that when a machine has the made for Windows sticker on it, you're accepting that its up to you to make sure you have a compatible Linux distro.

As a rule, I recommend laptops that come with Intel graphics. Unless you've purchased a machine that was built for Ubuntu or some other distro, running a mixed graphics environment is generally best left to advanced users. The exception to this is if you purchase a "built for Ubuntu" notebook that comes with mixed graphics. This means engineers have already tested and confirmed that computer will run correctly with Ubuntu and possibly other distros.

Another hardware consideration is your networking hardware. Any ethernet card is going to work just fine. And while most any wireless card should work with Ubuntu and other Linux distros, I highly recommend Atheros or Intel cards whenever possible. Both wireless brands will support the latest wireless standards in Linux. I strongly recommend against Broadcom chipsets. Despite the fact that they are supposed to work fine in Linux, I have seen many examples where even in 2017 people still struggle with this brand.

And then there is the matter of audio. Honestly, I don't think there's much to say here. While I think Linux audio still over-complicates with its audio architectures and sound servers, overall it does work well. For newcomers, the one application for handling multiple sound cards on Ubuntu that I recommend is called pavucontrol. This software provides you functionality not found in all distros. In addition to Output and Input tabs, pavucontrol also provides playback and recording tabs. These allow you to send different audio streams to different soundcards/headsets.

So what does a user do when something doesn't work at all? My first suggestion is to visit my Linux troubleshooting article. Odds are there is a fix there that will get things working for you. If that doesn't work, then perhaps the problems is that you've overlooked something. I once spent ten minutes trying to figure out why my mouse stopped working. Turns out I had kicked the cord lose and simply wasn't aware of it! Stuff like that happens, not just with Ubuntu, but with any operating system.

Getting Help with Windows vs Ubuntu

When you have a problem with Windows, you're able to get help both online as well as locally from a local PC repair shop. When you use a Linux distro like Ubuntu, you're almost always going to be seeking out help online. Local help for "non-enterprise Linux" simply isn't a sustainable business unfortunately.

For Ubuntu, I recommend sticking to Ubuntu Answers for help. Not only does it provide a solid place to search for a solution, but you'll also find that asking your question there yields a great chance for success. Remember to be specific. Share the affected device brand and model, what you tried thus far, stuff like that goes a long way to getting you the answer to your troubleshooting query.

Windows vs Ubuntu: Which is Right for You?

You may remember at the beginning of this article that I couldn't accurately suggest that one option was better than the other. This holds true, but with one exception. After spending some time between the two operating systems you should be in a place where you can finally come to a decision which is the right platform that best meets your needs. For me, Ubuntu MATE LTS remains my preferred operating system. My reasons are many, but it mostly comes down to the fact that if I have an issue, I can fix it myself. No need to wait for anyone else in most cases.

What say you? Do you run Ubuntu or another distro full time? Have you felt the need to dual-boot or otherwise have access to Windows to run certain applications? I'd love to hear about it. Not from a this is why your choice is better, rather why it's better for your as an individual.

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