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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Windows VS Linux

Both Windows and Linux come in many flavors. All the flavors of Windows come from Microsoft, the various distributions of Linux come from different companies (i.e. Linspire, Red Hat, SuSE, Ubuntu, Xandros, Knoppix, Slackware, Lycoris, etc. ).

Windows has two main lines. The older flavors are referred to as "Win9x" and consist of Windows 95, 98, 98SE and Me. The newer flavors are referred to as "NT class" and consist of Windows NT3, NT4, 2000, XP and Vista. Going back in time, Windows 3.x preceded Windows 95 by a few years. And before that, there were earlier versons of Windows, but they were not popular. Microsoft no longer supports Windows NT3, NT4, all the 9x versions and of course anything older. Support for Windows 2000 is partial (as of April 2007).

The flavors of Linux are referred to as distributions (often shortened to "distros"). All the Linux distributions released around the same time frame will use the same kernel (the guts of the Operating System). They differ in the add-on software provided, GUI, install process, price, documentation and technical support. Both Linux and Windows come in desktop and server editions.

There may be too many distributions of Linux, it's possible that this is hurting Linux in the marketplace. It could be that the lack of a Linux distro from a major computer company is also hurting it in the marketplace. IBM is a big Linux backer but does not have their own branded distribution. Currently there seem to be many nice things said about the Ubuntu distribution.

Linux is customizable in a way that Windows is not. For one, the user interface, while similar in concept, varies in detail from distribution to distribution. For example, the task bar may default to being on the top or the bottom. Also, there are many special purpose versions of Linux above and beyond the full blown distributions described above. For example, NASLite is a version of Linux that runs off a single floppy disk (since revised to also boot from a CD) and converts an old computer into a file server. This ultra small edition of Linux is capable of networking, file sharing and being a web server.

Graphical User Interface
Both Linux and Windows provide a GUI and a command line interface. The Windows GUI has changed from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 (drastically) to Windows 2000 (slightly) to Windows XP (fairly large) and is slated to change again with the next version of Windows, the one that will replace XP. Windows XP has a themes feature that offers some customization of the look and feel of the GUI.

Linux typically provides two GUIs, KDE and Gnome. See a screen shot of Lycoris and Lindows in action from the Wal-Mart web site. The web site has examples of many substantially different Linux GUIs. Of the major Linux distributions, Lindows has made their user interface look more like Windows than the others. Here is a screen shot of Linux made to look like Windows XP. Then too, there is XPde for Linux which really makes Linux look like Windows. Quoting their web site "It's a desktop environment (XPde) and a window manager (XPwm) for Linux. It tries to make easier for Windows XP users to use a Linux box."

Mark Minasi makes the point (Windows and .NET magazine, March 2000) that the Linux GUI is optional while the Windows GUI is an integral component of the OS. He says that speed, efficiency and reliability are all increased by running a server instance of Linux without a GUI, something that server versions of Windows can not do. In the same article he points out that the detached nature of the Linux GUI makes remote control and remote administration of a Linux computer simpler and more natural than a Windows computer.

Is the flexibility of the Linux GUI a good thing? Yes and No. While advanced users can customize things to their liking, it makes things harder on new users for whom every Linux computer they encounter may look and act differently.

Text Mode Interface
This is also known as a command interpreter. Windows users sometimes call it a DOS prompt. Linux users refer to it as a shell. Each version of Windows has a single command interpreter, but the different flavors of Windows have different interpreters. In general, the command interpreters in the Windows 9x series are very similar to each other and the NT class versions of Windows (NT, 2000, XP) also have similar command interpreters. There are however differences between a Windows 9x command interpreter and one in an NT class flavor of Windows. Linux, like all versions of Unix, supports multiple command interpreters, but it usually uses one called BASH (Bourne Again Shell). Others are the Korn shell, the Bourne shell, ash and the C shell (pun, no doubt, intended).

Installing the Operating System
There are three ways to install Windows XP: a clean install, an upgrade install and a repair install. Then, there is a "recovery" install, which is not an install in the true sense of the word but rather the restoration of a disk image backup.

A clean install refers to starting with nothing (either an entirely empty hard disk or just an empty partition or just unallocated space on the hard disk) and ending up with just Windows.
An upgrade install refers to starting with an older version of Windows and ending up with a newer version. Existing data files and applications should not be affected by the upgrade to the newer edition of Windows.
A repair install refers to installing the same version of Windows on top of itself. This is used to fix a broken copy of Windows and existing data files and applications are not affected.
A "recovery" is typically used to restore a computer to its factory fresh state. All data files are wiped out. All applications installed since the computer was new, are wiped out. All upgrades to Windows itself (patches, service packs) are lost. Applications pre-installed by the computer manufacturer are restored. Originally this was done from CDs, then DVDs. Now it is normally done from a hidden area of the hard disk.
Then there is Windows Vista where much has changed. I'm not familiar with the install options for Vista. Andy Pennell, a Microsoft employee, wrote about his problems installing Vista on June 21, 2007. He is very familiar with Windows and installed Vista onto a second internal hard disk, leaving the existing hard disk with Windows XP unchanged. At least that was the plan. See Installing Vista: My Personal Hell. Installing Vista on a computer with an existing copy of Windows, with the intention of dual-booting, is much trickier than it used to be with earlier versions of Windows.

There is a huge variation in the Linux installation procedure. Different distributions of Linux have their own installation programs (which may even change with different versions of the same distribution). Installing Linux on a computer without an existing operating system is much easier than installing it on a machine with an existing OS that you want to preserve.

I'm sure that installing Linux is getting easier all the time. While I haven't done it all that often, I have seen it become easier over time. Is it easy enough for you?

Ed Bott blogged about his experience installing Linux on July 31, 2006. Linux, XP, and my old PC
In March 2007, he tried again with mixed success. Why does Linux hate me?
A picture is worth a thousand words so this July 2007 picture show at ZDnet on Installing OpenSUSE 10.2 is instructive
In June 2007, I installed Ubuntu v7.4 on an IBM NetVista machine that was about four years old. The system would only run at 640x480 and things went downhill from there. The problem may have been due to a KVM switch that prevented the system from querying the monitor. However, instead of asking me or telling me anything about a failure to detect the monitor, it just ran at 640x480 with no GUI based facility to increase the resolution.
When installing Linux on a machine where you don't need to preserve the existing operating system, there is likely to be an option to clobber the existing OS as part of the Linux installation procedure. Or, you can use a program to totally wipe everything off the hard disk before installing Linux. The free Darik's Boot and Nuke is fairly famous for this. Better yet, the hard disk vendor should have a free utility that not only wipes the hard disk but also can run diagnostics on the disk.

You can also buy a new computer without any operating system. A low end Dell server, the PowerEdge 840 sold for $600 in June 2007. You can buy an HP ProLiant server starting at $500 that is certified to run six Linux distributions. IBM is big on Linux, quoting their web site: "The entire IBM Systems product line is Linux enabled." They sell computers both with no operating system and with Linux pre-installed. Nothing there is cheap however. Wal-Mart used to sell Microtel machines without an OS, but no more.

Installing Linux for dual booting, that is, keeping the existing operating system in tact, is probably best left to techies. It is all too easy to lose the pre-existing OS. You need to be familiar with hard disk partitions and some Linux terminology. With Red Hat Linux 8, the booklet on how to install the OS was over a hundred pages.

In his Linux book, Mark Minasi said that installing Linux on a desktop computer was more likely to be successful than on a laptop computer.

Application Software
There is more application software available for Windows. Then again, there may be sufficient Linux software for your needs.

Obtaining application software: If you buy a copy of Windows on a CD-ROM, you get no application software with it. If you buy a copy of Linux on a CD-ROM (or two or three) it typically comes with gobs of free application software. Likewise, Linux ISO downloads usually include lots of application software. The exception are Linux distributions that are small on purpose such as Damn Small Linux or Pen Drive Linux.

A new computer with Windows pre-installed normally comes additional application software, exactly what to include is up to the PC vendor. On one extreme, I have seen a new Sharp laptop machine that came with no software other than Windows itself. This is rare. In contrast, Sony VAIOs, for example, are more mainstream and come with a lot of software. However, there are two problems with the pre-installed application software on Windows computers.

First, much of it is junk. So much, that a new term "crapware" is being used to describe it. The PC vendors make money by installing this software that many people consider worse than useless. In fact, the first thing many techies do is un-install this software, someone even came out with a PC de-crapifier program to automate the un-installs. Windows computers sold to businesses tend to have less undesirable application software pre-installed compared to computers sold to consumers. I have never heard of anyone complaining about the software that comes pre-installed in the normal, popular versions of Linux.

Second, important software is often missing or old. For example, the Adobe Acrobat reader, may not pre-installed by the PC vendor. In February 2008, I blogged about a new Lenovo computer that came with terribly old versions of application software.

On the Linux side, to get a feel for the application software that comes with Ubuntu version 8.04 see Adventures with open source apps on Linux - Part 1 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes from May 23rd, 2008.

Application software installation: The installation of applications under Windows, while not standardized, is generally consistent and generally pretty easy. Installing software under Linux varies with each distribution and has not been nearly as simple, easy or obvious as Windows. A couple articles from 2004 griped about how hard it was to install software in Liunx: The May 20, 2004 issue of the Langa list newsletter and a July 4, 2004 review of Linux in the Washington Post (Linux, Still an Awkward Alternative) where Rob Pegoraro called application software installation "Linux's biggest embarrassment".

That said, current Linux distributions have an application somewhat akin to Windows update that can be used to install software. I don't have much experience doing this. However, in April 2008 I used one of the new $200 Walmart Linux gOS machines and found the application for installing software very confusing, and it failed every time I tried to install something.
Posted by: Admin
Easy Learn Computer, Updated at: 9:14 AM

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