Windows vs Ubuntu – why switch?

I want to re-install my work PC – get rid of Windows and install Ubuntu. Here’s why…

Around 5 years ago, after using AmigaOS, MS DOS, and MS Windows (versions 3.1, 95, 98, ME, and NT, 2000) , I started playing with Linux (or GNU/Linux if you prefer). I started with Mandrake (now Mandriva), and Linux From Scratch (compiling and setting up the whole operating system from source code), and I learned a lot about how a Linux system is put together, how software is developed and managed, and how PC hardware is often poorly put together, neglecting industry “standards” in favour of “does it work on Windows?”.

It seemed clear 5 years ago that Linux could do all I want a computer do, do it well, and maybe even gratis. The only problem was that it took a lot of effort to get to the system set up correctly in the first instance. Once it was ready it was great, but getting ready took time, research, and effort – that’s fine for messing around at home, but not so good for getting work done.

I now run Ubuntu Desktop Linux on my home PC, with virtually no effort required to run it – as these things should be.

My work PCs have always run MS Windows. Currently it’s Windows XP, and gives me hassle most days.

I don’t want to write reams of prose about the two platforms, so I’ll just describe the key issues that bother me, comparing Windows to Ubuntu:

(Apologies for the odd table, not suited to this thin theme.)

Issue MS Windows Ubuntu
Software management
  • Automatic updates for MS products only, unless you’re running multiple update programs
  • Add/Remove Programs tool works most of the time for some programs.
  • Periodically asks me whether I trust a security certificate.
  • Doesn’t really support adding new programs (get them from CD, or the web.)
  • Usually dumps an icon at the top of the start menu, making it a mess.
  • Central auto-update system for all software I reasonably might use (thousands of programs).
  • Cleanly installs and un-installs programs
  • Digitally signed, automatically authenticated repositories.
  • Places menu items in sensible categories – all from one simple to use program.
  • For the few cases where I want something not available in the system by default, I can usually add a new software source for it – problem solved
Malware scanner
  • Sophos anti-virus regularly brings my PC grinding to a halt.
  • No need for a virus scanner.
  • Maybe one will be needed in future – but not today.
Performance
  • Even with a rather generous 2GB RAM and 8 processor cores, I’m often waiting for simple tasks like a dialogue box to open or directory listing to appear.
  • That really bugs me.
  • Might be network related, rather than WinXP. One way to find out which…
  • My 1.5GM system slows down if I’m loading a multi-GB audio or image file, but that seems fair.
  • Switching between windows can be a bit twitchy if I’m not running Compiz Fusion – the new display acceleration system (which isn’t officially stable in Ubuntu).
Hardware support
  • Generally good.
  • I never managed to get bluetooth working, and getting the PC and my phone to talk through a cable was hassle, trying to find drivers/software.
  • Adding new devices can be rather hit and miss, with the problems of finding the right website->page->download needed.
  • When a device is supported in the kernel it’s usually seamless.
  • When not in the kernel, it can be as much hassle as Windows.
  • I got Bluetooth operational, although it was horribly slow – I suspect that’s just the format.
  • There are still lots of gaps in consumer hardware support (I expect recent moves from Intel and Dell will help close these gaps)
User runs the computer, or the other way around?
  • Do what Microsoft wants you to do – MS is the only producer of MS Windows
  • I get the impression that Windows Vista has lots of problems, heavy hardware requirements, but no compelling reason to use it.
  • In Microsoft’s business model everyone must “upgrade” to Vista – even the homepage for WinXP is covered in material steering you towards Vista.
  • There are many competing distributions of GNU/Linux, all essentially compatible with each other.
  • Differentiation on cost, support, features, architecture.
  • If you don’t like how things are heading on one distribution, you have a choice of others to use.
License costs
  • Software is not gratis.
  • Administrative overhead.
  • Perhaps a bigger issue for servers & CALs.
  • Pay more to run on multi-core/processor CPUs.
  • Software is gratis.
  • Pay for support if you want it.

Some of these problems could be decried as “standard industry practice”, but I see Free software changing the standard practice for the better.

So, if I want to use Ubuntu at work, what will I have to do? I’ve started listing up key Windows-Linux interoperability issues that will need to be solved – and their solutions – but that’ll have to wait for another post…

16 Responses to “Windows vs Ubuntu – why switch?”

  1. Ubuntu, Why Should You Switch? Says:

    [...] the really good bits by visiting their blog (in the comparison chart): tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2007/08/03/windows-vs-ubuntu-why-switch/ addthis_url = ‘http%3A%2F%2Fubuntulinuxhelp.com%2Fubuntu-why-should-you-switch%2F'; addthis_title [...]

  2. Homer Says:

    “8 processor cores”?

    Good grief! What’s your hardware specs?

    I haven’t been keeping up with these things, but is it two of those new quad-core AMDs?

    It’s amazing isn’t it, that even on monster hardware like that, Windows is dog slow?


    [H]omer
    (Fedora user, and occasional maintainer).

  3. Paul Says:

    This is an excellent blog entry that details some powerful, practical reasons for using a Free Software OS like Ubuntu as opposed to a proprietary OS. You touch on one of the most important reasons for using Free Software when you say, “User runs the computer, or the other way around?” You can read at some ways in which proprietary sotware is used to track down and punish political dissidents and others who work to effect change.

    If you value your freedom, moving to a Free Software OS like Ubuntu is well worth any minor hardships you may have to endure to secure that freedom. I hope to read more about your experiences with Free Software in the future.

  4. Invasion Of The Inexpensive, Linux-Powered Laptops | Connected Internet Says:

    [...] Also weighing in at 2 pounds, the Nanobook has the advantage of running Windows (if you can call that an advantage on an under-powered portable that will probably strain under the bloated code-base). It’s even more than the Foleo, however, at $600. Great if you’re married to Windows — and science knows most of us are. No reason you couldn’t strip out Vista and replace it with Ubuntu, though… [...]

  5. David Balch Says:

    @Homer,

    Yes, this machine is rather embarrassingly beefy :-) It’s a Dell precision 490, with two 64 bit Xeon quad-cores at 3.2GHz, and 2GB RAM. (http://www.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/precn_490?c=us&cs=555&l=en&s=biz)

    I really ought to get back into 3D graphics or something to do it justice.

    @Invasion,
    Interesting article. I wouldn’t want to be the first to try running Linux on the nanobook though, given how I’ve heard Via to be not all that hot on Open Source support.

  6. Youssef Says:

    Glad you’re happy with Ubuntu, i’ve only been using it for like 8 months and i’m thrilled with it. It’s a true pleasure to use, especially with 3d effects turned on :). Anyway, I hope the moves made by Dell and Intel ( and HP soon to come ) will address some of those hardware issues. I can’t wait for the ultimate demise of micro$oft

  7. FreeSoftNews » Blog Archive » Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #51 Says:

    [...] * Windows vs Ubuntu – why switch? – I want to re-install my work PC – get rid of Windows and install Ubuntu. Here’s why…It seemed clear 5 years ago that Linux could do all I want a computer do, do it well, and maybe even gratis. The only problem was that it took a lot of effort to get to the system set up correctly in the first instance. Once it was ready it was great, but getting ready took time, research, and effort – that’s fine for messing around at home, but not so good for getting work done. I now run Ubuntu Desktop Linux on my home PC, with virtually no effort required to run it – as these things should be. http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2007/08/03/windows-vs-ubuntu-why-switch/ [...]

  8. Sachin Shinde Says:

    I totally agree with using Open source software, but with Ubuntu I had worst experience so far about Linux. I have used various flavours (RedHat, Suse, PcLinux, etc) but never had any hardware compatibility problem till I tried to install Ubuntu. I had Core 2, 1GB laptop on which I tried to install Ubuntu 7.x and it just hanged in installing screen. Now I have got another laptop HP Core 2 with 2 GB, nVidia 256 dedicate graphics card but now when it start installing it shows the screen totaly distorted you can see a big faded mouse pointer on the screen but hardly can do anything after that. I am really disappointed with Ubuntu now. Going back lovely SUSE :)

  9. seabear70 Says:

    Ok, here’s a little something people don’t talk about…

    I’ve been running Ubuntu for about a week now, and I’ve had to reinstall it about 6 times. Why? Because unless you know exactly what you are doing, you’re going to screw it up trying to get the damn thing configured. Once again wireless has stopped working and all of the great tools I was led to expect are not available unless I want to remember a dictionary full of code.

    Sound never did work, and let’s not even talk about bluetooth.

    Sure, it only took about 20 minutes to install, each time, then an hour and a half to install the updates, but when Vista took an hour to install, everything worked to at least some extent. I had to much about with things to get them optomised, but my 3 hours installing and updating vista is nothing compared to the week of futily trying to get Ubuntu to behave.

    So I did a little research, and I found out my testbed, an Acer 3050-1118 is the most unsupported hardware available for linux. Having worked on computers since a teletype with a 110 baud modem was state of the art and windows since DOS 5, I should be asking so freaking what? It’s difficult to support this platform, who cares? instead I’m asking, “You want me to recompile what?????”

    Years ago I got certified on Linux, and things have gotten better in the intervening years, but there is a damn good reason why Windows is kicking everybody’s ass. Right out of the box, it works, every single time, painlessly.

  10. David Balch Says:

    @seabear70

    Sorry to hear you’ve had problems. I’m not sure that this is something “people don’t talk about” though – it fits my thoughts in the “Hardware support” section, and is often raised in the “year of the Linux desktop” conversation. Only time will tell whether Linux gets enough presence that the hardware manufacturers all join in, and all hardware is properly supported.

    “there is a damn good reason why Windows is kicking everybody’s ass. Right out of the box, it works, every single time, painlessly.”

    The counter-argument to this is that out of the box, Windows is already set up for you; if you get a computer with Linux set up for you OOTB it will work, every single time, painlessly.

    Sorry to re-tread the same old point-counterpoint, but I can’t resist a logical fallacy ;-)

    Unfortunately I’ve not had time to progress Linux at work, but I’ll be getting a new (personal) laptop shortly, so I’ll try and find time to post about how the install goes.

    I doubt I’ll want to bother compiling anything…

  11. Zawa Says:

    I’ve running using ubuntu, its fantastic :) I like it

    http://zawa.blogsome.com

  12. vmguru007 Says:

    Hi,

    Ubuntu has been doing great lately. Its users base are increasing every day. Better than all its free. We were glad to compare between it and Vista earlier at our site at http://itcomparison.com/OS/vistavsubuntu/vistavsubuntu.htm Its a more detail one than the one posted here, but the one in here say a lot as well. It seem Ubuntu and how it compare to windows is getting to be a main concern of most people. With Ubuntu being free and Vista requiring a super machine to run, people are moving into the great Ubuntu. I hope Ubuntu can keep up at this great base with it being free.

    Enjoy the Ubuntu Heat,
    VMguru007

  13. Lex Ross Says:

    I am using Ubuntu on a daily basis for all my office work. In my experience, Ubuntu 7.10 is just as slow as Vista on my Asus F5N laptop with AMD 1.9GHz 2×64 Turion and 2GB of RAM. Ubuntu takes 3 seconds just to launch terminal window (although Firefox window opens up in 5 seconds straight). We are talking about subsequent application startup of course, when everything is loaded into memory. I do not care that much for the first time I launch an application but rather about my experience during the normal work flow.

    On the other hand, YOPER distro was lightning fast, in terms of launching applications. That implies that Linux in general can be extremely fast wihout compromising on desktop usability.

    Again, to me the underlying OS does not matter that much as long as my Office and Email applications are there. So Vista loaded with OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird is as good as Ubuntu, and I found Vista file browser interface very similar to Ubuntu, too.

    But when it comes to usability, there is no comparison. Ubuntu seems all logical, and Vista’s menu system is a mess just like KDE (which used to be my favourite destop before Ubuntu came up). Ubuntu is very well integrated, with my Evolution contacts available in Ekiga soft phone for instance.

    So to your question, is it the user driving computer or the system that’s driving the user, I think technology is pushing the user to change the work flow to make it fit within the limitations of that technology, or to whatever it was designed for. I found it to be easier to compromise in some instances rather than trying to fight the technology to make it behave my way. With Ubuntu, that meant switching from Kontact to Evolution at certain point.

    Now back to original question. In terms of speed, we should really talk about productivity, and usability is the enabler for it. And also the fact that interface does not change much from one system release to another. Someone has put great effort into making it usable.

    So what I am saying is that for me there is no real alternative until one of the two issues is resolved.

    1. How can I make Ubuntu load and launch applications as fast as another distro, optimized just for that

    OR

    2. How can I transfer Ubuntu setup to another distro. And will that distro remain as fast as it was, or will it just become an Ubuntu clone?

  14. TALL blog » Blog Archive » Linux driver status Says:

    [...] Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman has posted a status update on the Linux Driver Project, which is an effort to help hardware manufacturers support Linux – even write the drivers for them – hopefully alleviating the hardware support problems I mentioned in a previous post. [...]

  15. TALL blog » Blog Archive » Switching from Windows to Ubuntu Says:

    [...] after a long time grumbling about how Windows gives me hassle, I’ve switched to Ubuntu on my work [...]

  16. The Big Switch | Mitchell Willie Says:

    [...] “Windows vs Ubuntu – Why Switch?”, on TALLblog [...]