Thursday, December 20, 2007

Linux or Windows

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Author: Tolga Tohumcu, Information Technology Professional

A comparison of Linux and Windows

Everyday people ask me the same question over and over again. What is the difference between Windows and Linux? I’ve decided to write this article so people can read this and decide. If it was up to me, I would change the whole world computers to Linux base operating system as this article posted on a powerful Red Hat Enterprise Server.

Windows and Linux are operating systems. And in many respects, from a user point of view, they are quite similar or at least offer much of the same functionality. Both of these operating systems offer file management, memory management, control of peripheral devices, communication with other computers, and both run a range of user software.

Linux was originally built by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in 1991. It is distributed under the GNU General Public License. Technically we can say that Linux is a Unix-like, Kernel-based, fully memory-protected, multitasking operating system. So what do we mean by that? Basically, Linux is a powerful, robust, compact, and most notably, free operating system. It runs on a wide range of hardware from PCs to Macs.

Windows is a GUI based operating system. It has powerful networking capabilities, is multitasking, and extremely user friendly. Built by Microsoft, it also offers an operating system which most PC users will already be familiar with if they have used other Microsoft products such as Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 2000, XP and Vista.

Indeed, Linux and Windows have been around for many years, yet, during these years Windows has been enjoying an overall advantage over Linux due to Microsoft’s market success because of its broad focus aimed at beginner users as well as advanced, while Linux has been primary used by advanced computer users – programmers and developers.

Indeed, many beginner users find Windows easer to use than other operating systems; however, usually this is said by an individual who did not try other operating systems, or who was simply influenced by a friend or colleague.

One fundamental difference between the two systems is the fact that Linux is "open source". This means that unlike Windows where you only get access to the compiled programs that you run on your machine, with Linux you also get the original computer code to examine and tweak (modify) at your leisure. This may not seem a big deal to many people, but it allows unlimited possibilities to anyone with the knowledge and courage to get into the driving seat of the operating system and point it in their own specific direction. This also goes to show that Linux users are more advanced.

So, what makes one operating better than other? Well to answer that question, many things need to be taken into consideration. Perhaps the first one to start from will be the list of applications available for an operating system as well as hardware that would support the following applications.

Currently, Linux falls short in the number of different applications available for it. The reason for it is Microsoft’s success. There are much more various applications available for Microsoft since the population of Windows users is greater than Linux. Also, since Microsoft is more popular, the Hardware products are aimed at the biggest market – Windows, such that the product would be sold and used widely. Indeed, that is the only reason, since Linux has a different advantage. Linux programs are distributes freely since they are not developed by commercial software companies, but instead are created under the GNU Public License, which makes the software free. Yet, most of the Linux software lacks the GUI and is therefore not “liked” by many users. However, Windows has its own share of problems – the fact that some software is not compliant for different versions of windows (i.e. Windows 98/XP/Vista) and that many times the GUI concept is overused such that command arguments cannot be passed to the program.

Another aspect of this comparison is the cost of the purchase of the new PC with preinstalled Windows operating system, and acquiring a Linux operating system for an “empty” machine. The fact is that the biggest portion of the price for the PC with Windows is the cost of the preinstalled applications such as Office, Outlook, IIS, etc..., yet buying a Linux operating system, only the redistribution cost is charged.

As was said earlier, Windows is a fully GUI based application, however, Linux also contains a GUI – it is called X-Windows. There are two different types of the GUI interfaces available for Linux – Gnome and KDE, which both contain a different style. Also, Linux offers a choice of four desktops thus allowing the user to work in different windows on different desktop for convenience. Windows, on the other hand, is limited to the way the application windows are laid out on the screen. Windows GUI also has been known for its large memory requirements, where it usually uses a huge chunk of RAM for visual components.

Kernel and the operating system environment is also an important part of an operating system. Linux has some real good advantages over Windows in these criteria. Linux requires 386 architecture to run. Thus, it is compatible with any improved architecture such as 486, Pentium, Pentium Pro, etc. Also, there are drivers available for much many types of hardware devices. Linux program installation seems to be easier since it only requires a restart when hardware device has been changed, while Windows requires a restart on software installation. Linux supports multiple copies of the Kernel on the system such that if an error is encountered and the Kernel becomes corrupted, a different copy of the Kernel can be used to boot up the system.

A very important aspect of security is another basis of Linux and Windows comparison. Though it is possible to break into virtually any system if special considerations are not taken, Linux seems to be more prepared for protecting itself because of the beginning developments of Linux, UNIX, and FreeBSD which were aimed at top notch security, while Windows is often known for a large amount of loop holes. Linux allows does not create registry keys in a way Windows does allowing a user to browse installed components registry keys, which contain important information. Also, Linux is more virus proof since viruses – malicious programs either cannot be run automatically on the Linux machine, or simply are not capable of being executed on a 386 architecture.

The most important functionality of an operating system, it of course an operating system must be reliable - it must not crash, even under extreme loads. Second, availability services must be in place to let clients continue to have their processing requests satisfied, even when the operating system or hardware fails. Unfortunately for Windows, it seems to be less stable even though the latest versions of Windows XP are far more improved than the incredibly buggy Windows Vista.

So, what is better Linux or Windows? That questions can only be answered by an individual from his/her own view, depending on what the users needs to do with the operating system since Linux does not have any sufficient test benchmarks that can compare its performance with Windows. However, one thing is for sure, Linux technology use is currently on the rise. This can be seen by various Windows/Unix/Mac OS products ported to Linux over the years. Widening use of Java also contributes to this uprising. The use of the “.php” technology, which is a Linux type of active server page, has also increased. The only thing left, is to wait and see, whether Windows will be overcome by Linux, or not. I think it will.

Choosing Linux vs. Windows

On the Personal Computer show in December 2003 John C. Dvorak predicted a bright future for Linux. His main points being: it's free, the applications are getting more mainstream, Open Office is a "fabulous" product, the GUI is pretty much like Windows, it's high quality, bullet proof and resistant to the thousands of Windows viruses and worms. If he owned a company with thousands of PCs, he would put everyone on Linux.

To date the only organizations (that I've heard about) using hundreds or thousands of Linux based computers are government agencies in countries all over the world. They may be driven by cost and/or security concerns (practically speaking there are no Linux viruses). Some countries also may not like being beholden to a U.S. based company for so much of their software.

Is Microsoft finally about to face real competition in desktop-computer software? This article raises a point I agree with. The next version of Windows, the one that will replace XP (which is here today as Vista), is not going to be delivered for a long time opening up a window of opportunity for Linux. In addition, the upcoming version of Windows is likely to be expensive and require new hardware, two other areas where Linux competes well. It may also involve too many changes. By the time it's delivered, more and more Linux distributions will look more like Windows, just as Microsoft rolls out a new user interface. People accustomed to the current Windows UI may resist the change.

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- Tolga Tohumcu
Author, Technology Today

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