Following Matt’s mini-series covering Windows vs. OS X yesterday, I thought I would contribute something with a more Linux-y feel. Note that I make it a point in the article title to say “Linux Distributions,” rather than simply saying “Linux.” I want to make things perfectly clear: Linux is not an operating system. Linux is a kernel. Since we’re comparing a contrasting with Windows, it is only appropriate that we do so with distributions, which are operating systems on their own, versus just a single component of an operating system. With that, what follows are six reasons why Linux distributions are better than Windows.
Linux Distributions are Free
At least, most of them are, anyway. I would feel pretty silly if I left out this obvious benefit over Windows, so I made sure to discuss it first. As long as you have the means to acquire them (which might include already owning a computer with another operating system installed), Linux distributions are usually free to install and use.
(Most) Software on Linux is Free
Again, while this point covers most of the software available to users of a Linux distribution, there are always exceptions. That being said, there is a myriad of free (as in free beer) software options for Linux systems, most of which are viable replacements for the software you would find on Windows (which can be very expensive, in some cases).
Linux Distributions are Completely Customizable
One of the greatest parts of open source, and therefore Linux and its software, is that you can change anything you want about it, given that you have the means to do so. If you don’t like the GNOME or KDE desktop environments, you can swap them out for XFCE or Openbox. Delving deeper, if you have the skills to modify source code, you can change entirely how a certain function of software works, then keep it to yourself or share it with the world.
To give an example, Gentoo is a Linux distribution that the user compiles almost completely on their own computer. They get to pick, choose, and configure exactly which components they want in their build, from the type of system logger used to the desktop environment. While a distribution like Gentoo is obviously not for the weak of heart, the fact that you are simply able to do something like this is a definite plus.
Linux Distributions are Developer Friendly
Straight after install, most Linux distributions will provide many tools useful to developers for creating software. With that said, the Linux environment itself really feels like it was designed for developers, as the first stop to doing something powerful on a Linux system is the terminal whereas in Windows you’re usually limited to a GUI.
If a particular distribution doesn’t come with a tool out of the box, it is usually fairly simple to get that tool. For example, while Ubuntu might not include the GCC (GNU Compiler Collection) out of the box, it’s only a single command away:
sudo apt-get install gcc
You might not be a developer, of course. Linux’s friendliness to developers expands beyond compilers and command-lines, of course. If you encounter an issue with software on Linux, the variety of tools at your disposal allow you to easily report the issue to the developer in full detail. As a result, bugs are usually fixed swiftly and without much hassle on the user’s end.
There are Less Security Flaws and Bugs in Linux and Open Source Software
Given Linux’s open source nature, I think it’s a safe bet that there are tons of developers around the world that examine and hack away on the source code every day. The same goes for open source software in general. As such, isn’t it logical to assume that on average, flaws in open source software are fixed faster and with a better solution than in proprietary software? While Microsoft can pay a hundred developers to work on Windows and its bugs, there will always be more developers working on open source software.
Linux Works on Older Hardware
If you look at the system requirements for Windows 7, you’ll find that it requires plenty of storage space and a decent amount of RAM to exist happily. Therefore, I think it’s safe to say you won’t get a very pleasant experience trying to run it on a machine that’s ten years old. On the Linux camp, however, you will find that even the latest software runs just fine on older hardware. In fact, typically the older the hardware, the better it will be supported.
Linux Has a Strong Community
I have been using Linux distributions for many years now, and the one thing I can say for certain is that no operating system has a better community than Linux does. I currently use Arch Linux, and they provide a huge wiki filled with help and tips from the community. When I used Ubuntu, most Google searches ended up taking me straight to the Ubuntu forums (or other Linux forums, of course). Perhaps it depends on your issue, but most of the time when I ran into trouble, the Linux community was there to help in some shape or form. Why is the Linux community so strong, though? Perhaps it is simply the type of people who support Linux, or maybe people are more willing to help knowing they didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for their operating system. While the answer to that question might not be clear, you can be certain that whether it’s through IRC, forums, mailing lists, or even in person, the Linux community has you covered.
Perhaps I am a bit biased, being a strong supporter of open source software and having used Linux for quite a few years now. And just a heads up, I do dual-boot between Arch Linux and Windows 7. If you really want a good computing experience, then I recommend you do the same. Most of my time is spent in Linux, but if I need to do something I cannot do (many games or professional media software), then I can easily boot into Windows and satisfy whatever needs doing.
In the end, it’s really up to your preference. Take these benefits into consideration, weigh all the pros and cons, and pick the operating system best targeted for your case.