Operating System Choices

Commercial vs free (open source) operating systems-- is Linux better than Windows or are they just different?

Windows vs Linux: Ubuntu, Mint and their Linux cousins are very powerful and efficient operating systems. Linux was developed to manage servers and was designed for use by technical experts. In recent years a number of user-friendly versions of Linux have been developed with Graphics User Interfaces (GUI) which automate many of the management functions that in older versions had to be manged by typing instructions into a command line. For the average user, with a bit of luck, it is possible to use one of the Linux operating systems and never have to resort to the command line (for most simple command line needs there are websites which can provide the exact code needed.) Windows was also developed as a GUI operating system by Microsoft to replace its older command line managed operating system MSDOS. Even the latest version of Windows has a command line option which it is sometimes necessary to use for specific functions.

For Windows: Windows is probably the most commonly available operating system. There is usually at least some technical support available for Windows and there are a lot of publications and websites available on how to use Windows. Windows usually comes pre-installed on brand-name computers, although the versions of Windows on locally produced computers in developing countries are often pirated versions. Windows 7 has been very popular and is relatively fast. Windows drivers are available for nearly all available hardware. Application software for Windows is usually easy to download and install. Windows 8 has not been as well received.The newest version of Windows--Windows 10 (Windows 9 was skipped over)-- is an improvement over Windows 8. It has some disconcerting idiosyncrasies including (on at least some computers) presenting a completely black screen when updating the software. Most of the open source and free application software will run on Windows.There is a wealth of up-to-date online training material and books for Windows.

Against Windows:Windows can expensive. Microsoft used to make a Windows 7 "starter" available for purchase in some developing countries at about $US50, however there is no starter version of Windows 8 or 10. Prices for Windows 10 can be country specific and users in developing countries often opt for pirated copies of Windows. Legal copies of Windows are frequently attacked with viruses -- free and open source anti-virus and firewall protection is available-- but may not have the reliability of the better commercial software. Pirated copies of Windows cannot load Windows security updates and are extremely vulnerable.

For Linux: Linux operating systems are free and virtually all of the software available to run on Linux is also free. It is reliable and fast. Linux is much less susceptible to virus attack than Windows. Some versions of Linux will run satisfactorily on older computer equipment and  it installs without difficulty on most of desktops and laptops. There is a lot of training material available online-- including videos. Most Linux distributions automatically install a word processor, a spreadsheet , presentation software and several operating system utilities on initial installation. Installation of the operating system is straightforward and application software available though the included software management software is simple.to load.

Against Linux: Users of Windows or Apple operating systems will have a bit of a learning curve getting used to the Linux interface. The open source software available for office applications may not have all of the features available with the commercial software (although the average user probably wouldn't use the missing functions anyway). A special problem is in small data bases where there seems to be no intermediate level database for Linux equivalent to Access ( LibreOffice Base is not intuitive to use but it can be used to solve most issues involved in linking data bases and for setting up tables for use in Geographic Information Systems software (GIS). A few of the applications in the "free" software group will run only on Windows. Users without Internet access or who have low bandwidth may have difficulty accessing open source software. Technical help may be hard to find. There are often problems in older equipment with finding drivers for some of the peripherals-- particularly wifi. Many printers--particularly those a few years old--may not have easily installed drivers available.Although books on using Linux and Linux applications are available, they are often very "techie". The ones dealing with applications such as LibreOffice and QGIS are often out of date.

What to do?:This depends on what your situation is:

If you are using pirated Windows software and can't afford legal software and virus-protection:
The only viable solution is to switch over to an open-source software like Linux (if your computer is compatible). The pain of changing operating systems will be far less than the long-term problems of using pirated software.
If you have a current legal Windows operating system (Windows 7 or later) which is protected with anti-viral software (remember commercial anti-viral software has to be renewed every year.)
You will probably find it convenient to stay with Windows-- particularly if you are planning to mix commercially purchased applications with open source or free software.
If you require specialized applications for which there is no suitable open source software--for example developing Access databases
In this situation, if you can afford the legal software, Windows is the best solution.
If you are starting with a new computer
Give Linux a try-- unless you have very specialized needs, the odds are it will meet all your needs and will save you a whole lot of money.
Copyright 1998/2019 GRI    Updated 22 February 2019