The enterprise tycoon comes up against the open source underdog in our operating system showdown
When most people think of the battle for best operating system, they often think of the continuous struggle between Windows and OSX.
There is an oft-overlooked third party, though; Linux is a free, open source OS with a small but devoted userbase. But how does it stack up against the world’s most popular system? We put Windows and Linux head-to-head to see whether your business should make the switch to the open source operating system.
Windows vs Linux: Installation
Still with us? Good; now we move on to looking at installation. Again, this differs a little from Windows methods, as well as varying between distros.
A common feature of Linux OS’ is the ability to ‘live’ boot them – that is, booting from a DVD or USB image without having to actually install the OS on your machine. This can be a great way to quickly test out if you like a distro without having to commit to it.
The distro can then be installed from within the live-booted OS, or simply run live for as long as you need. However, while more polished distros such as Ubuntu are a doddle to set up, some of the less user-friendly examples require a great deal more technical know-how to get up and running.
Windows vs Linux: Security
Security is a cornerstone of the Linux OS, and one of the principal reasons for its popularity among the IT community. This reputation is well deserved, and stems from a number of contributing factors.
One of the most effective ways Linux secures its systems is through privileges. Linux does not grant full administrator – or ‘root’ - access to user accounts by default, whereas Windows does. Instead, accounts are usually lower-level, and have no privileges within the wider system.
This means that when a virus gets in, the damage it can do is limited, and restricted mainly to files and folders on the individual machine. This can be greatly beneficial from a damage control standpoint, since it’s far easier to simply replace one machine than scour the entire network for malware traces. There’s also the fact that open source code such as Linux software is generally thought to be more secure and better maintained, due to the amount of people scanning it for flaws. Similar to the ‘infinite monkeys’ principal, ‘Linus’ Law’ (named after Torvalds), states that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.Possibly most important, however, is the issue of compatibility. As we mentioned earlier, virtually all software is written for Windows, and this also applies to malware.Given that the number of Windows machines in the world vastly outnumbers the number of Linux ones, cyber attacks targeting Microsoft’s OS are much more likely to succeed, and therefore much more worthwhile prospects for threat actors.This isn’t to say that Linux machines are totally immune from being targeted, of course, but statistically, you’re probably safer than with Windows, provided you stick to best practice.
Windows vs Linux: Performance
Microsoft’s ubiquitous OS can be called many things, but ‘lightweight and speedy’ is not one of them. Windows has an unfortunate tendency towards bloating and sluggishness, and can very quickly feel outdated if not properly maintained.
Linux is much quicker, on the whole. The OS itself is less demanding, and many distros sacrifice any visual bells and whistles to ensure that performance is the absolute best it can be. Opting for one of these builds can be an excellent way to bring an ailing older laptop back up to its former speed.
There are, of course, numerous ways to ensure that a Windows PC or laptop remains decently nippy over the course of its lifespan, but Linux computers will on average outperform them over a longer period.
Windows vs Linux: User-friendliness
When it comes to user-friendliness and how accessible an OS is to first-time users, Windows is a clear cut above the competition.The fact that Microsoft has been producing its system software for nearly 30 years means that many aspects of it have become cultural touchstones. Accordingly, certain elements of the layout and navigation have been absorbed through osmosis, and a lot of users can essentially operate the system instinctively.Linux does not have the luxury of being the most widely-used operating system in the world. As such, new users have to re-learn how to perform simple tasks on an unfamiliar and often complicated system, which can be offputting for the casual consumer.However, Linux is an operating system that gets simpler to use the more you understand about it, while Windows can sometimes be the opposite. Digging down past the basic tasks into more complicated functions can leave some people baffled.Microsoft, to its credit, has spent the past few years simplifying the more confusing and labyrinthine elements of its software, and generally making it much more accessible for entry-level users that aren’t necessarily computer literate.This is especially evident in Windows 8.1’s settings menu, which boils down some of the most common and crucial control panel tasks and lays them out under clear and concise headings. It’s a lot more straightforward for the layperson, and the control panel’s still available for power users to tinker with.
Windows vs Linux: Verdict
Given their different strengths and use cases, it’s difficult to definitively state whether Linux or Windows is the better OS. Whether or not each one will be a good fit for your business depends a lot on how your company operates, and what applications it uses.
If you’re a small firm that works primarily in software, Linux is likely to be a good fit, as the free availability will reduce overheads, and set-up won’t be too complicated to manage. It also has a reputation as a tool for coding.
However, larger deployments will be much more complicated. Replacing the computers of hundreds of employees is likely to cause chaos, particularly if they’re not familiar with Linux. It’s possible – especially if a simple, Windows-style distro is used – but without a very capable and well-integrated IT department, many companies will struggle.
Given the flexibility of multiple distros, the non-existent asking price and the heightened security, Linux is our overall favourite - assuming you’ve got the patience to adapt to a new system.
Windows, however, remains the winner in terms of pure convenience. It’s simple, familiar, and guaranteed to be compatible with virtually all software; for busy companies, that could well be more valuable in the long run.