LinuxGeex.Myhosting.Info: Why choose Linux over Windows? A Short story about Choices.
Articles Why choose Linux over Windows? A Short story about Choices. May 24th 2008

Someone once asked me why I would choose Linux over Windows.

To them, it seemed incredible that anyone would want to use anything else, since it's obviously the best platform, "after all, everyone uses it."

The Jewish People have an expression that goes along the lines of "If nine out of ten people believe something, it's probably right. If ten out of ten people believe something, it's questionable." This thinking came about due to millenia of wisdom passed from generation to generation, and the observation of the wisest of their leaders - recognising the fallibility of a group where convention is too readily accepted. When we stop thinking independantly, we become thoughtless.

Windows is for the masses for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to (bah) convention. Some use MacOS because they want a stylish and unconventional product.

The principle irony of the story behind user decisions whether to run Linux vs Windows is that new users are afraid nobody will help them if they run Linux, again because everyone is running Windows. The irony is two-fold. First, Linux was created by its users. Those who run Linux are generally knowledgeable and helpful, and Linux is fueled by a spirit of collaboration. Windows has marketed itself as the platform for people who know nothing about computers, and so it has an established user base of helpless people. Choosing this camp because one wants help is hardly a wise decision. Also, Windows is proprietary, preventing the users from getting to know it intimately, or from fixing it.

But fear is not the right reason to make a decision which OS to use. Performance, reliability, cost, compatibility, operational lifetime, and availability of software are good reasons to consider.

First, consider that Windows is designed, from the ground up, to attract people with money and extract as many dollars their wallets as possible.

Linux on the other hand is designed, from the ground up, to be stable and do exactly what its users want it to do.

Both Linux and Windows have performance benefits over each other. Generally to run a given piece of software the system requirements will be lower with Linux because it makes more efficient use of resources. On the other hand, Windows has some proprietary enhancements to its device drivers that sometimes give it an edge in for example 3D rendering. Often games will perform better on Windows and productivity and server apps will perform better on Linux.

Historically Linux has been far more reliable than Windows, particularly in the uptime department. Linux machines with uninterrupted run times exceeding a year are relatively common, and pretty much unheard of in the Windows camp, particularly before Server2003 came out. Now Windows has become much more reliable, but for truly Highly-Available services it's still unthinkable to rely on Windows. Perhaps Windows plus some smart Linux-based router technology. ;-)

Cost, well generally you can have Linux for free, and Windows relatively for free (compared to hardware and software costs the platform itself is negligible, particularly in bulk.) The main cost differential will come with deployment, training, and operational costs. Either side can win depending on the deployment, userbase, and software run.

For compatibility, Windows has an atrocious track record as far as supporting older versions of its software. Linux has had some issues too, but when push comes to shove it's always possible to run older software at native speeds regardless of the updates applied to the system. You can still load a program compiled for version 1.0/386 kernel, on a 2.6/x86-64 one, despite sweeping changes. It's even possible, using qemu, to run programs compiled for different processor architectures, ie PPC, MIPS, or ARM on an x86 machine. Directly, not in a virtual machine.

Operational lifetime is relatively subjective. One can still run MS-DOS 3.3 if one chose to, but what can one run on it? Both Linux and Windows have commercial releases with 8 years of product support. The difference is that when Windows stops being supported it will be overrun immediately with viruses if it is connected to the Internet. Linux has no set version and any release can be updated to avoid any security issue, but not effortlessly. So while the freedom is there, the convenience ends around the same time.

Windows has by far the largest amount of software available for it. Linux has a vast amount of software available and can run a significant portion of Windows software, natively, using the Wine ABI compatibility layer.

Where Windows really wins is in 2 departments: 1) special-purpose software, and 2) games.

Where Linux really wins is 1) freedom to improve and distribute the software, and 2) long-term hardware support.

With Windows you have the right to pay for software, and when it goes wrong you can call a (sometimes toll-free) number and talk with someone who doesn't natively speak your language. They will patiently guide you through how to use the software but they will not be able to fix anything that's actually wrong with it. If you are a large corporation you may spend several thousand dollars and sign an NDA to get the source so you can fix the program yourself, but you will be forbidden from sharing that fix with your colleagues.

With Linux you will probably be able to talk with the person who wrote the program, within 24 hours, via email or IRC, and they will provide you with a fix that you can immediately share with your colleagues. Later, when you visit another company or friend who has updated their software recentlyl, there's a good chance that their copy of the software will also have been fixed.

A simple example of the power of freedom: We've all lost data due to a bad storage device or a corrupt filesystem. We should all run backups regularly...

In Linux, since version 1.0, you could do a tape backup by typing "tar cv />/dev/nst0" These backups are still compatible today, though you may instead be making them to /media/backups/ or maybe you might start using one of the more elegant tools such as duplicity instead of the venerable tar.

In Windows, to do a tape backup you had to buy special software, install some drivers and updates, agree to one or more licences, fill out some forms, and then you could make a backup. With every major release of Windows, you probably had to buy a new backup program that orphaned all your old backups. When '98 came out it had a backup tool but it couldn't back up the entire system and insisted that you not run other programs while you run it. With XP the system came with a "restore point" software that slowed disk access and gave the false impression that it was making backups. With Vista, most still haven't learned.

I hope this commentary has provided you some insight as to why I would prefer to run Linux instead of Windows. It's about choice, mostly. I would like the freedom to decide what to do with my hardware and software, and Windows is just too greedy to let me. Even if I paid them millions they wouldn't let me change the startup text during boot and share that change with my friends. What they will do is spend millions to help prevent me from playing music I recorded with my MD player on the Zune using Linux. They are scared, and rightly, because such tyrrany has brought the people in arms to the doors of Kings in the past.

No Sir, I will not pay your tax. ;-)
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