What is the difference between Windows and Linux?

Does anyone use the Linux computer operating system instead of Windows at home, and what do you like/dislike about it? We are going to replace our Windows 98 system with Linux soon, and we’ve heard it’s better, but we’d like to hear some first-hand advice and experiences first to give a good unopinionated judgement. Does it work with internet better, is it less likely to lock up when playing a game?


Wow, talk about Great Debates material.

I use Linux at home and at work, mostly because I like it better. I learned Unix before I really worked with Windows, so Linux feels much more natural to me.

It’s hard to say one is better than the other, really. It’s a question of what do you want to do with the computer. If you just want to play games, surf the internet, check your email and listen to music without having to learn anything first then Windows is for you. If you don’t mind the steep learning curve, the Linux or BSD are good, too, and will do everything Windows will except play a lot of the games. They can do many of the games, but not all. It’s not that Linux can’t run the games; the game manufacturers haven’t ported their games to Linux. It’s a money thing.

Windows was designed so anyone, even those unfamiliar with computers, could use a computer. Linux and BSD were designed so that anyone that wanted a Unix system could have one. There are fundamental differences between them.

Windows XP is much more stable than 98, so if you want stability, Windows is an option. I’m a Unix bigot, but I really don’t have any solid complaints about XP that don’t come down to “it’s not like Unix.”

If you are going to try Linux, I applaud your choice and suggest Fedora, Mandriva or Ubuntu. All three are good beginner distributions with damned fine installers.

Here’s my 2 cents:

Linux comes from Unix, which was developed back in the 70’s. It’s had a lot more time to mature, and did multitasking really well long before DOS (the PC version) was even created.

Windows, in contrast, was a GUI created for DOS, and DOS was not multitasking at all.

Linux, like the unix that it was based on, did multitasking really well, but really sucked as far as its user interface was concerned. Windows had a really good user interface, but sucked as far as multitasking was concerned. You need good multitasking for system stability, and you need a good user interface so the guy in the chair can actually do something practical without a lot of training, so the two systems have been growing towards each other. Linux is becoming much more user friendly, and windows is becoming a lot better at multi-tasking and having better system stability.

But neither one is quite where the other one is yet.

Linux is still sometimes difficult to install and troubleshoot, and its graphical interfaces just aren’t quite as spiffy as windows yet.

Windows, on the other hand, is spiffier and easier to use, but still can be knocked on its knees by certain types of misbehaving programs.

Don’t get misled by the linux-is-my-religion type folks, though. Linux may be a bit more stable just because of the way its designed, but you can still bring a linux box to its knees. It’s not crash-proof.

Both operating systems suffer versioning problems (as in how do you run the same software on different versions of the operating system). Linux gets around this by making you compile many programs when you install them, which makes many linux programs a royal pain in the backside to install. Windows programs are much easier to install, but microsoft’s solution to the versioning problem is to basically give you the middle finger and tell you that it’s your software vendor’s problem not theirs. XP at least gives you the option of using compatibility modes, but those often don’t help.

Much linux software is free. Much windows software isn’t.

Much software is written for windows. Not so much is written for linux.

If you can find a game that will run on linux, it’s not likely to lock up at all. In window’s defense, though, if the game will run on XP (which many older games won’t), they won’t lock up the box either. The main problem here with windows is that the same things that make XP (and other versions of NT, like 2000) more stable are the same things that make games stop working, which gets us back to the versioning problem I mentioned above.

Make sure all of your hardware is supported by linux before you install it.

While engineer_comp_geek did mention it, I thought you should be aware that there is a very good chance that your favorite game (or other favorite application) won’t run on the Linux box, so if you have a large investment in software, you need to be willing to trash a lot of it and start over.

There is a lot of free software for Linux, but there is also a lot of commercial software that isn’t very fond of it.

While your OP doesn’t truly give us enough information to know for sure, I do get the impression that neither of you are very computer savvy (no offense intended if I’m mistaken) and are looking to switch simply because you’ve heard that it’s “better”, which is a huge mistake in my opinion. Linux is better for some people and some uses, but it does take more knowledge to get it up and running(although that’s gotten a lot better) and still takes a huge amount of knowledge if things go wrong. In fact, that’s where I’d be most worried about you switching. I’m pretty confident you’d be able to install certain distributions and get them to boot up to a desktop, but if you have any subtle incompatibilities, I can foresee insurmountable problems for you.

Linux is a “free” operating system that tends to be used by people with specialized needs. It is not yet ready for normal day-to-day home use. You wouldn’t be happy trying to use Linux as a replacement for Windows 98. While it will be more stable, it won’t work anywhere near the same. You need XP. It is quite stable and has lots and lots of support. Yes, it costs, but consider your time. You will come out ahead with XP.

Now, if you are really interested in a UNIX varient OS-I am typing this on a Mac, which runs a kind of UNIX, is very stable, and very easy to use. Personnally it was an easy choice for me.

But you need to get something that you can keep working. XP or Mac, Linux isn’t your best choice.

Given the questions you asked, I would heartily NOT recommend Linux. Like many others have said - it ain’t Windows. And it ain’t for people who don’t know computers pretty well. Hell, I’ve been in computer jobs for going on twenty years now, and I wouldn’t want the hassle of Linux at home.

I could go on, but suffice to say: if your an average computer user, most of your software won’t run on the Linux system. And by “won’t run” I don’t mean you’ll have to go out and buy another copy. I mean it flat out is not available for Linux. Most games are not released for Linux. Most general purpose software isn’t. Sure, you can get the equivalent of Microsoft Office, but you can’t get the equivalent of most games.

Really, don’t go with Linux, not if you just want a normal computer.

Nitpick: Windows NT (which is the ancestor of Win2000, WinXP and Win2003) was designed from scratch by the chief architect of VMS. Windows 95/98/Me were, however, GUIs on top of MS-DOS.

Isn’t there something called “Wine” that is supposed to allow you to run Windoze stuff on a Linux system?

Yes, along with CrossOver Office. But you really need to know what you are doing to get an app working under it, other than those it comes with by default (IE, OE, WMP, etc).

WINE can be used to run windows programs on linux, but a lot of things won’t run on it.

Be very careful suggesting XP as an upgrade to 98. A lot of 98 compatible software, especially games, won’t run under XP.

I would be in linux right now but I can’t actually get into Linux. It’s installed on a second hard drive which I forgot to add into the bootloader when I was installing Solaris. Yeh I know, I know :wally And until I can be bothered to edit that…

I am running RedHat. It’s not free, but it is a lot like Windows. And being that I hadn’t run a Linux distro before, I decided that would be my first choice. SAMS publishes an 1000 page+ book for everything you could ever want to do with RedHat along with RedHat 9 Pub. Ed. if you actually want to learn how to use it.

However, I have friends who swear by Fedora Core (I hear there’s ed. 4 out) I have a friend who swears by Ubuntu (and one who hates it) and I have one who swears by Debian.

Linux will get you wordprocessing, music, printing, internet, but no games. And even that you have to have the right hardware. Some sound cards and printers you won’t have a hope in hell of getting to work. Check your hardware compatibility first.

Wine is still very much a piece of software under development. If people get it working for what they need, then great. But it’s not yet anywhere near ready for general use.

As Go You Big Red Fire Engine says, hardware is a problem. In addition to what he mentions, modems (including ADSL) can be a real pain to get working.

I am thoroughly impressed with the clean evenhanded responses showing up here!

For anyone who wants to get a taste of Linux without the commitment of a full installation, I heartily recommend Knoppix, a “Linux on a CD” distrobution that you can pop into any PC and run immediately. Knoppix (and other distros like it) run straight from the CD, leaving the drive(s) on the PC untouched. About the only tricky part is burning the CD and then figuring out the magic command to get it to boot nicely for your machine. A hint: hit the help keys that the startup screen tells you. It will give a list of boot switches to get you on your way.

Even if you choose not to use Linux, the Knoppix CD can come in quite handy. When my wife’s XP laptop corrupted its registry, Toshiba tech support started to calmly walk me through re-imaging the machine. That’s all they would do :(. I hung up, slapped in my Knoppix CD, used it to copy all of my wife’s data from the NTFS hard drive onto a thumb drive, and then reimaged the machine :cool:. It is a very handy way to get a full OS with graphical interface running even on a totally hosed-up machine.

Most things are better than Windows '98, although you can make '98 manageable if you have a good ghost system in place (basically you install '98 and the software you need, with the right configurations on partition c and back that up on a CD/DVD or d-partition, store all your user data on d, and then about each year or whenever you have problems you restore that partition back to c).

However, for games, '98 isn’t that bad. XP is the best next thing. Then Linux. Linux is a nice system and you can get some very user-friendly distributions for it that are as easy to setup as Windows XP is.

Personally, I really love Windows XP. It’s fast, easy to use, has a lot of great integrated media functions, is very, very stable (if you have crashes, they are generally hardware issues) and just works with almost everything. However, XP in its (current) Service Pack 2 version has both an upside and a downside. SP2 is a lot safer and better protected against viruses and such, but some older programs won’t work with it.

On the other hand, XP runs more older software and even DOS programs than any version before. And if you move to Linux, NONE of your current software will run anyway. That’s very, very important to remember. I write software myself, and I come across more disappointed Mac users than Linux users who can’t use my software …

I would generally only consider Linux if all you do is email, surf and write a few documents or simple spreadsheets and such, if you love mucking about with something non-Microsoft, or if you absolutely can’t afford Windows.

Otherwise, your best bet is Windows XP.

Wow, thanks everyone for your extremely helpful advice! :slight_smile:

I see that no one has yet mentioned the adware/spyware/virus factor. I know that it is supposed to be possible to keep those things under control, but my experience is that the average computer user just can’t do it, no matter how much advice they get. Of course, if you have someone knowledgeable to take care of your machine for you, then it probably won’t be an issue.

If not, I would recommend a Mac if money isn’t an issue, and Linux, specifically Ubuntu, if it is. (Ubuntu has a live CD similar to Knoppix that you can try.)

However, if you play a lot of games then Windows is obviously your only choice.

That’s debatable:

I think some of the disadvantages of Linux have been greatly exaggerated here (even though they are true). For one, hardware compatibility is hardly a problem at all. I’ve been running FreeBSD (similar to Linux and runs mostly the same programs, but quite different at its core) for several years now and the only problem I’ve ever had was getting the tv-out on my video card to work and that’s probably either due to a bug (because i’ve heard of people getting it to work with older versions of XFree86) or a misconfiguration on my part. Undoubtedly, Linux supports more hardware than FreeBSD does. If you have a really obscure piece of hardware, then you’re likely to have problems, but if it’s a standard set of hardware, then you will probably be fine.

Software support is a bit more of a problem, but isn’t as bad if you don’t have any programs you really want to use. Linux has a huge amount of small games that you can install for free, like Windows’ Solitaire and Minesweeper. There are even free 3-D games, like Tuxracer, Heretic, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3-D. Yeah, they’re not as pretty as modern commercial games, but that doesn’t matter to me. If you must play commercial games, you have four limited choices. One, companies are starting to release games for Linux. I know Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2000 have been released for Linux. Two, sometimes people release patches for games so you can play the Windows version for Linux. I use the term patches loosely, because usually it’s a complete executable and you just supply the files from the cd for level maps, etc. Third, there are emulators such as WineX. It uses actual Windows dll files (which you have to supply from a Windows installation disc) allowing for better emulation, though you sometimes have to use a slightly different configuration for each program. I remember there being a site that listed workable configurations, and they seemed to have a lot of popular games at the time. I believe Quake 3 and some version of Unreal Tournament were on the list. Let me state that it has been 2 or 3 years since I’ve even looked at WineX, but it couldn’t have gotten worse. Fourth, and the most likely to play your games, is to install Windows in a virtual machine. There are programs which emulate a computer’s hardware and allow operating systems to run within other operating systems. Since you’re actually running Windows, you’ll be able to run practically any program that doesn’t try to go beyond its limits for accessing hardware, like a disk partitioning program. That’s really a safety feature which prevents the Windows programs from messing with any Linux stuff. The biggest drawback is I think all of these programs are commercial and cost money. Still, it could be a worthwhile investment for a Linux user.

As for usability, Linux has come a long way through the years. I would be lying if I said that you’ll probably never have to drop to a command line to fix anything, but it happens a lot less often than it used to, at least in some of the easier distros. Most things can now be configured with graphical utilities. The learning curve is steeper than Windows, but not by as much as people make it out to be. Besides, most people don’t really know how to fix Windows. If it messes up, they reinstall. And if something messes up in Linux, it’s far more likely that you did it than in Windows. As for the graphical interfaces (the window managers), they’re already leaps and bounds beyond where Windows will ever be at this rate. With KDE, I have 10 times the features and configurability than Windows, and it’s faster than any Windows XP installation I’ve ever seen, even though I have a lowly Athlon 600 Mhz and KDE is perhaps the slowest window manager for Linux. When I used IceWM, there was just no hesitation with the window manager at all, unless I had several other programs hogging the processor, and even then it wasn’t really bad.

That’s all I have to say for now. I’m not recommending you switch to Linux. If you are adept at computer technology and have the motivation to learn something new, you’ll probably do well with Linux as I did (before going to FreeBSD). If you’re only considering Linux because you’ve heard its better, then you’re probably not going to think so because it takes a certain dedication to learn it. If you are genuinely interested in Linux despite the work you’ll have to put into it, then I recommend you start with a distro that boots from cd (such as Knoppix). Again, don’t jump into Linux just because you think it’s better. However, if you really want to learn it, then go ahead, because the biggest thing that’s required to understand Linux is the desire to do so.

As previously stated, a pretty even handed response and a lot of useful information there. I’d just like to add that Ubuntu is free, as in air, and comes with a live cd that you can try without havin to install. Delivery is a bit on the slow side though.

Also, all Linux offerings can live alongside a Windows installation, so if you run into difficulties and need the machine for some task you are unable to preform with Linux, you can boot into Windows untill you learn how to do that particular task with Linux.