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Window Systems - How Linux and Windows differ

Updated on December 19, 2011

When you have been working for years only on Windows, it is sometimes an information overload to understand the Linux environments. One of these differences is the Windows System, the pretty pictures you see and icons you double click to do your bidding. The article aims to give you an understanding in how Windows and Linux differs in their ways to give you the user and desktop to work from.

About the GUI

The history of a Graphical User Interface (GUI) dates back to the early 1970's and has grown and evolved ever since. The GUI's primary role is to help users to easily interact with the computer.

If you have ever worked in the days of DOS or any command line system, you will be familiar with executing commands. The GUI is nothing more than a very specialized command. For those who have been around since the days of DOS, you might recall the command win.exe to start the GUI for windows.


MS Windows has one GUI. Period. When you install from Windows 95 to Windows 8, you only have a single GUI program, which starts as you boot your computer. That is you workspace and you can customize and modify to fit your preferences. All your applications run within is space, from your word processing to games to calming screen savers.


Linux, and all other open source Unix-based systems like the BSD family approach the GUI differently, here the GUI is a separate application. A distro is generally packaged with a GUI, in the example the latest Ubuntu is installed with Unity, Kubuntu is packaged with KDE. However you are not limited by only using the one GUI.

You can also run one GUI with in another, however before getting to technical, lets review some of the more current popular environments.

But why so many ?

The reason why there are so many desktop environments... there was a need and a solution was provided. Not always the best or stable, however, this is the beauty of open source. Each of the mentioned, as well as unmentioned, has a history as to why it was created, mainly, to provide features other environments lacked or was just too bloated for its purpose.

Which one is right for me?

Here you are the decider, you need to look at the options available and what will suite your needs the best. Let us take the following examples.

Zentyal, this is a very nifty small business server, and as a server, there is not much day to day user interaction required, installing a full 3d and advanced GUI will be overkill, so they opted of Openbox, enough to make working easy on the system when required.

Fluxbox is extremely small, and lightweight, a very good option when you need to login remotely and need to preform basic task on a server with remote desktop tasks.

Gnome and KDE are both a very stable and mature GUI, with addons such as compiz which enables advanced graphical features, very nice when you want to show off your geekyness.


The MS Windows and Linux approach to desktop environments differ vastly, if you where only exposed to the MS Windows it might be a bit of a mind shift to grasp the concept about desktop environments are just an enclosure in which your applications function.


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