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Linux vs. Windows: A Comparison For Real Humans Sans Beanies

Updated on March 20, 2011

Let's take the Great OS Wars out of the realm of the nerdz for a minute...

Whenever a debate of operating system supremacy for the desktop is launched, the geeks invariably take over the conversation and drown the humans with incomprehensible gobbledigook such as "Yeah, but can you make an archive of a subset in Windows by just typing 'find dir/ -name '*.txt' | tar c --files-from=- | bzip2 > dir_txt.tar.bz2'?" Like that was actually simpler than seeing an icon on a screen and clicking on it.

There are countless Windows vs. Linux sites on the web, likely more sites than you'll find discussing the relative merits of Capitalism vs. Communism, but I have yet to find one that communicates to mortals who do not wear pocket protectors, propeller hats and taped-together hornrimmed glasses the Pros and Cons of each Operating System (OS) in terms that they can actually understand.

That's why it's time to compile the first ever Windows vs. Linux article for real people. You know, real people? They're the ones who actually have a life away from a keyboard...

The massed armies of geekdom will likely lambaste me on an Open Source Skewer for oversimplifying all this, but here we go!

It may come as a surprise to most people weaned on the teat of Microsoft that there are actually options to seeing the Microsoft Windows logo pop up on your boot up screen. We're not discussing Macintosh here, as that is a whole 'nother matter. We're talking about the operating system on your typical, garden variety PC.

Your OS is just another piece of software, just like your Microsoft Office, or Grand Theft Auto. Instead of providing an application for you to use, it provides a platform for the computer to do the things you want it to do, like run your applications. Just like you can choose to write your letters and do your spreadsheets on software other than Microsoft Office, like the superb and free Open Office, and just like you can decide to uninstall the horrifically violent and debasing Grand Theft Auto game and play a nice sedate game of SimCity instead, you can also choose what OS your PC boots up to.

There are currently two main sides in the OS wars, fighting for your boot screen. One of them is Microsoft, and you're already well aware of them. The other is something called the Open Source Community. We all know about Burt Rutan, the guy who decided to build a spaceship in his garage and actually made it work better than NASA. Well, the Open Source Community is similar to that. They decided that Microsoft Windows was not the way to go so they decided to build an alternative. The strange thing about the Open Source guys and gals is that not only did they come up with something that in some ways is better than the huge behemoth they're competing against, but they give it away for free. Heck, even Burt Rutan takes Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic millions!

What these programmers came up with is called Linux. It is an alternative to Windows, so that you can theoretically run your entire computer without a single Microsoft product. If it were that easy, the debate would be soon over, since the average consumer would look at Windows Vista Ultimate at $399 and Linux Ultimate at $0 and Microsoft would go the way of Enron and the dodo bird.

Linux is not yet a full competitor to Windows. Why? It's because of the Linux programmers. They're programmers. They aren't marketing specialists. They don't have a clue that in order to beat Microsoft at their own game they should stop thinking about ways to incorporate newer and zoomier features and concentrate rectifying the following points for middle-aged housewives and other real people:

1) Linux is impossible to install. No mortal human is going to understand the steps required. If you want Linux to succeed create an Ubuntu release with this installation: Insert CD. Click Install icon on screen. Go have lunch. Come back and start working. Don't force me to buy a Dell with preinstalled Linux just because I'm afraid of the installation process.

2) WINE is to drink. Incorporate some sort of built-in transparent application emulator. I want to run Photoshop and all the rest of my Windows software on Linux. I don't want any more excuses. Just do it.

3) Plug & Play. I want to plug in a card or an external peripheral without delving into the inner intricacies of the system. I want my OS to recognize it, load the driver and let me work on it. Period.

4) Clean up your act. Even the latest Ubuntu is a rough-edged, incomplete-feeling, unpolished hash of an OS. No one wants Vista slickness overlaid on Linux, but Windows XP would be a really nice place to start.

5) Forget free. Regardless of what they think in Cuba and Venezuela, Marxism is dead and Capitalism won. No one is going to raise an eyebrow at an MSRP of $49.95 or even $79.95 as long as the OS does what they want it to do, easily, reliably and without having to take university level courses just to learn how to back up your files.

Those are the key problems to switching to Linux. People are accustomed to working on their Windows systems with their Windows applications that work in Windows ways. You can argue until you're blue in the face that the Linux paradigm is superior and you're still not going to convince the quilting granny who uses her PC only to email photos of her latest Flying Geese to her grandchildren in Iowa.

Linux adherents will also point out that most releases come with hundreds of applications. Yeah, well I can find the same or better on The general level of Open Source applications is close to that of cheap shareware, definitely Open Office and possibly GIMP excluded.

I'm not even going to complain about the various distributions. There are countless "flavours" of Linux, but then again, show me a man on the street who can tell you that Vista Aero comes with Home Premium but not Home Basic. Until he buys it, takes it home and wonders where all the swoopy 3D graphics went.

There are endless reasons to switch to Linux, and most of them have to do with the fact that it's not a Microsoft product. Linux is like that dream you have of that magnificent blonde Amazon beckoning you over to share her secret tropical waterfall for a quick skinny dip and then... you wake up and find you're still serving 5 to 7 at the State Pen. The promise is great, but until the dream becomes reality, you're still going to have to worry about Pedro trading you to Bubba in Cell Block C for a pack of cigarettes and a poster of Pam Anderson.

I'm not a Vista enthusiast, indeed, I have stated previously that I will stick with my Windows XP Pro until either Microsoft comes out with an OS that does not include Vista's Gestapoware, or I'll eventually go Linux.

Would I switch now? Not on your life. Linux needs to pull its head out of its nether regions and realize that the real meat of the market is in the general demographic, not the Nerdz R Us department. The Open Sourcers need to elect a Temporary Benevolent Dictator who will kick the programmers in the butt and force them at gunpoint to devise an OS which has all of Linux's current strengths but combined with Windows' universality and commonality of use. Then and only then will the long-held dream finally come true. Microsoft will be swept from the desktop of the common man, and once again, all will be well with the world.


Check out hundreds of Hal's PC Technology articles in these categories:


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    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      10 years ago from Toronto

      "Windows apps can be used without too much trouble"

      Nope. Too much trouble for me and countless millions of others. You want to run a Windows app? Run Windows. Otherwise, why bother with Linux? Who really cares?

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I've just been looking around for other OS's, and agree that Linux needs to be more user friendly. I think Linux with Wine is quite good - the latest Ubuntu has Wine preinstalled, so Windows apps can be used without too much trouble. But it sounds to me like what you're looking for is here in the form of ReactOS - I've yet to try it in anger, but the site looks very promising.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Nice article and it's hard to argue. But then I've been a big fan of Linux for years.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Yet another attack on Billsoft disguised as a fair comparison. Linux has promise, but that promise will never be realized by whining about windows. You make some valid points about what people want in an o/s and how linux is completely devoid of the things, but you tell everyone else to do something about it. The world doesn't change until someone takes a step forward and starts the engines of change.

      In other words, if you want it so badly, do it *yourself* and stop waiting for others to do it for you.


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