Seven Reasons Why Linux Distributions Are Better Than Windows

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.

Final Thoughts
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.

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  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    I have always thought about running Ubuntu Linux in a VM. I just don’t know how it will run on my CPU.

    • Awesometechdude

      If your computer has more than 400MB of RAM and 20 or more GB of storage, it will run smooth and fast on your CPU. Try Ubuntu, one of the best and most popular linux distributions to start. Whether you like it or hate it, there are always many other linux distributions out there.

      • Nathaniel Gale

        This depends on the distro more than anything. I just installed Lubuntu on a machine with 256 MB of RAM, 900 mhz Pentium 3, and 20 GB HDD. I wouldn’t dare try Ubuntu though. There is a linux distro for almost any machine.

        • Awesometechdude

          Bodhi linux is a great choice for old machines with that kind of specs.

    • Bossco28

      If you don’t want to use a VM, you can try the live cd first, here you can get an idea how it might run in a VM. There is also puppy linux that is about 126 mb. Beside a VM you can use wubi, which it will allow you to dual boot your pc. The nice thing about wubi is, if you don’t like you can uninstall it from the window’s side.

  • http://twitter.com/wesmorgan1 wesmorgan1

    I’ll echo the “older hardware” comment.  I’ve run Linux on machines as old as a ThinkPad 560Z (Red Had 6), and I’m currently running the latest release of Ubuntu on a ThinkPad T60 that struggled with WinXP SP3…

  • daisy2

    Linux is tops.  I love trying the different flavors.   I’ve got 250MB RAM and an old 500MHZ cpu.  Linux runs it.  Great job!!!

  • Anonymous

    I think that it is important to consider that only some Linux distros are better. I would say that Windows 7 easily trumps many Linux distros however I would say that most Linux distros (and quite old ones too) are better than XP and Vista. I use Windows 7 and Ubuntu 11.10 equally and I’m happy with both for what they are. From a developer perspective there are probably more tools and support for Windows development however I do like some of the Linux development environments though they tend to be more challenging.

  • Frans

    Dual boot here, Kubuntu and Win7 with a virtual pc into XP.
    Is one truly better than the other? I do not think so in that it all depends on what you need to achieve. I like Kbuntu but still need Win7 for some stuff like Outlook and other apps, Xp I still need for some legacy apps and each does the job that I need it for, so better is a relative term in a case of any OS.

  • Wingnut4427

    HEY !! I want that arcade distro You mentioned on The Youtube video. Could You post what it’s called so I can download it ?

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      Puppy Arcade.

  • AndyMac82

    I have used Linux in a few different guises over the last 5-6 years.  My current distrobution of choice these days is ‘Pinguy’ as it is based on ubuntu but is a fully featured os that even my mother can use.  Plus it can be installed to any external drive or SDHC card as I have done, which can be used on my home pc to my netbook with no hardware problems.  If you could do that with windows then I’m sure people would be swayed over to the M$ camp again. Yes I know Win8 can log on from anywhere to your own personal settings, but try doing that when you’re in the middle of the North Sea with no internet connection.  1 passport sized external HDD + Linux = your PERSONAL computing experience that can run on a Cyrix 200 MX PC to a P4. On that note, Linux has supported ARM processors for ages now.  Wakey wakey M$…

    • JJ Soteria

      Thanks for the heads-up on Pinguy…like the concept of the external HD setup.

  • ????

    how do you set up dual boot?

    • Anonymous

      The easiest way to dual boot is through downloading wubi. It’s just like any program you install. If you find linux just isn’t to your taste, you uninstall it and get rid of the linux registry keys.

      • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

        WUBI is *not* a proper dual boot system, it runs Linux in an image on top of Windows, if Windows fails, then you lose Ubuntu too! It will also be slower too. TO dual boot all you need to do if you already have Windows installed is boot from the liveCD and go through the installer and select ‘install side by side with Windows’ and it should allocate a sensible partition arrangement by resizing WIndows partions. Even better idea however is to install on a seperate hard drive and choose that in the installer :)

      • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

        WUBI is *not* a proper dual boot system, it runs Linux in an image on top of Windows, if Windows fails, then you lose Ubuntu too! It will also be slower too. TO dual boot all you need to do if you already have Windows installed is boot from the liveCD and go through the installer and select ‘install side by side with Windows’ and it should allocate a sensible partition arrangement by resizing WIndows partions. Even better idea however is to install on a seperate hard drive and choose that in the installer :)

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using Ubuntu 11.10 since yesterday (dual booting W7 and 11.10). It’s okay if I just use it for browsing the web, etc. and it will force me to use and learn Gimp (Photoshoper for life here) and some other free software, but for all my needs… I shouldn’t have to rely on Wine or boot into Windows for the programs I use the most. Just because they’re free programs and don’t have a team of paid people working on them night and day doesn’t mean they have to come across as buggy, clunky with the UI, and not entirely intuitive.

  • Nicholos Tyler

    I don’t really think the statement where it says that Linux Distributions are always “less buggy”. If you’ve used a more modern Linux distro (like Ubuntu 11.10 etc.) then you would know that Linux does come with some major bugs. Like you pointed out though, the nature of Open Source (and Linus Law) does come to play in this. 

  • Syed

    can linux be supported by Mac ?

    • krigerpoeten

      Not sure what you mean by supported, but Linux runs great on Macs.

  • Curtis Coburn

    I am very new to Linux. I though “Why not give it a try”. Though I do not know too much about linux. I think it is worth using. Sure I can’t do everything on it, but if I need to do something in Windows, I will just re-start my computer and use Windows. Again, I am new, and I don’t know much about linux, but am open to learn more. 

    • Curtis Coburn

      I’ve come back to read this article again. I know more about Linux now. So far, I really like it. For most of the things I do on the computer, about 95%, I can do it in Linux.

      My dad has been having a lot of problems in Windows Vista. The BSOD has been comping up for some months now, and I think it is time to get rid of his Windows Vista, and install Linux on the computer.

  • Craig Weber

    Lol. “Linux is not an operating system, it’s a kernel”. The system that operates a computer has been officially renamed.

  • rossmcd

    Linux does run great on old hardware! Some guy got it working on a 8-bit CPU!!!

  • Paul

    I’ve recently installed Ubuntu 12.04 LTS…. and its pretty awesome. It’s great for developing software and especially for learning Unix orientated stuff!

    I’m pleased with what I see, so pleased I’m going to try out other distros on my desktop! Starting with Mint! Then maybe Fedora? I love the options and the fact its FREE.

  • Filip

    Windows is a lot easyer

  • Jon Moreton

    I needed Linux to save a Windows compuiter than wouldn’t boot. Yep. Brilliant!

    Thank you Microsoft. Linux saved my data and has given me a more enriching computing experience. I need my computer to work for me. Linux rocks. Windows is better for gaming though. Agree?